Huskies open, UMD finds coaching vacancy

John Gilbert

Cale Haugen fired a pitch in the second inning of Monday's wild 10-9 victory over the Badland Big Sticks. Photo by John Gilbert.

A year ago, I wrote that watching the 2023 Esko High School baseball team perform was one of the most satisfying endeavors in a career-full of watching top teams play and win championships. Of course, Esko fulfilled my feeling by going all the way and winning the Class AA state championship, behind an outstanding team led by pitcher Cale Haugen.

Haugen went off to Minnesota State Mankato for his freshman season, and the Eskobos he left behind roared through this season undefeated until running into a final-week ambush by Duluth Marshall, and then a last-game loss to Grand Rapids.

But as Esko reaches the climactic part of its season, the Duluth Huskies have just started, and on Monday, the Huskies put on a captivating show in their second home game, against a new team called the Badlands Big Sticks, a solid team that had beaten the Huskies 6-2 in Sunday’s home opener at Wade Stadium.

Haugen gave up three runs in first two innings, then settled in and blanked the Big Sticks for the next two.

The highlight of the Monday game was that when it was time for the 12 noon Kid’s Day game — with 1,357 fans romping around Wade — the starting pitcher for the Huskies entry in the collegiate summer league was Cale Haugen. It seemed as though there was a whole section filled by folks from Esko, coming to Wade Stadium to see last year’s hero try his art at the next level.

For Haugen himself, there had to be immense pressure to start the game, and it showed. The Big Sticks jumped on a few of his pitches for two runs and three hits in the top of the first. They got another run in the top of the second for a 3-0 lead before the Huskies stirred. But Haugen settled in, and worked his way through the third and fourth innings without giving up a run.

As the bullpen did its job, the Huskies pecked away, first when former Duluth East star Joe Vos cracked a long drive that cleared the right field wall and cut the deficit to 3-2. As the score kept rising, the Huskies turned it into an early-season highlight in front of all those little kids, and a relieved Cale Haugen, who watched from the dugout.

The Huskies rallied for three runs in the last of the ninth to force extra innings, and when the Big Sticks regained the lead at 9-8 in the top of the 10th, the Huskies snatched victory from the explosive visitors from North Dakota with a two-run rally in the last of the 10th and a 10-9 victory.

Duluth East grad Joe Vos showed good home run trot form after his blast closed Huskies deficit to 3-2, before they won 10-9 with a 3-run rally in the last of the 9th and a 2-run winning rally in the 10th.

One day later, on Tuesday, it will be Esko Day all over again at Wade Stadium, as this year’s Eskomos were to play in the Section 7AA semifinals against Marshall. Esko is still coached by Cale Haugen’s father, Ben Haugen, and his brother, Sam, is a junior standout on this year’s team, but Esko also will need some instant revenge against Marshall, which inflicted a 3-1 loss to spoil Esko’s bid for an undefeated season.

Esko and Marshall are both well-coached and talented, with depth enough to have three or four outstanding pitchers, something necessary to make it through the innings-limited double-elimination battles in sectional play. Esko already dodged a major scare when, in an earlier round, the Eskomos trailed Proctor 7-1 in the fifth inning, and it was 8-6 in the last of the seventh when Esko pulled it out with a 3-run rally. Interesting that the most exciting parts of the high school season are dovetailing with the very exciting start to the Huskies season. That should make for an interesting summer.

I had to miss some of last week’s big games because I was off to Minneapolis to have Northwest Eye do a little cataract surgery on my left eye, and under the care of Dr. John Barestka, I came out of it without a bit of pain. My wife, Joan, accompanied me and we had to stay overnight because of a post-operation exam early Friday morning. All went well, and we cruised home by Friday dinnertime.

It was then, while watching Alexis Bass do the sports on Channel 6, I learned that Maura Crowell had decided to leave UMD and has signed on to become head coach at Dartmouth. I was shocked, and I have been unable to reach Maura since then. She has been at UMD nine years, and after some struggles in her early years, rebuilt the Bulldogs to again be nationally NCAA championship. But this current UMD team has considerable potential, and with the Bulldogs capable of reaching the Frozen Four, it seems disappointing that Crowell has chosen to leave for Dartmouth. Dartmouth, located in Hanover, Mass., won only six games last season.

It will take several years for Maura — or anybody — to lift Dartmouth to national prominence. True, Maura grew up on the East Coast and spent her developing years there, with several coaching positions leading her to Harvard, where she was associate head coach. That was her springboard to come to UMD after Josh Berlo shockingly dismissed Shannon Miller in midseason.

Shannon Miller built the original UMD team after coaching Canada’s Olympic team to a Silver Medal, after being upset by Team USA at Nagano, Japan. Miller’s skill was astounding, putting together a team from scratch that was good enough to win the first season of WCHA women’s hockey, and then winning the first three NCAA championships ever held. Her teams won two more, later, and had made UMD to best women’s program in the country when Berlo decided to fire her. Berlo said it was because UMD couldn’t afford to pay Miller so much money, and yet Crowell stands to earn nearly $200,000 a year, despite having never won a title.

We wish Maura the best, and the best of luck, at Dartmouth.

Esko's Finn Furcht doubled home the first run and scored the second in a 12-0 victory over Two Harbors.

We also will wait to see what a new search committee can come up with as far as a list of candidates to take over UMD — one of the best programs in the country, and clearly the best one with an opening for head coach. Laura Schuler, one of Crowell’s assistants and a former assistant of Miller’s before she went off to coach Team Canada, will be the interim coach during the search, and certainly will be among the top candidates if she applies for the new opening.

On the coaching front, we are equally shocked that Minnesota Wild boss Bill Guerin decided to fire Darby Hendrickson, a supportive and beneficial assistant since he started with Jacques Lemaire after his playing career. I

ncidentally, his playing career after Richfield and the University of Minnesota, includes finishing with the Wild, where he scored the first goal in franchise history. Insiders say that Hendrickson was well liked, well-respected, and coach John Hynes met with Hendrickson and stressed that he wanted Darby back in the same role, Then Guerin called and told Hendrickson he wanted to meet with him, and informed him he was done.

As far as we can tell, Darby had only a positive influence on every year he was with the Wild, and if Guerin assumes that in some way, Darby was a problem that he could cure by dismissing him, well – he’s wrong.