Prep Baseball: Eskymos hungry for opener

ESCANABA – The weather hasn’t done the Escanaba High School baseball team any favors, but the Eskymos have stayed busy practicing in the gym, and on Friday they’ll get a chance to see how their work translates to the field as they take to the road to face Appleton North.

The Eskymos were scheduled to kick their season off Tuesday at home against Marquette, before traveling to Norway on Wednesday. Due to the long winter and sloppy field conditions, those games were cancelled. It appeared the game against Appleton North, which was originally scheduled to be in Esky, was going to be called but the schools agreed to switch the location to Appleton.

“The kids were excited because they found out that we had a game Friday,” said third year manager Kirk Schwalbach. “Now our work is cut out for us because we have to really focus on getting a lot of stuff in, in a short period of time.”

Schwalbach said it’s going to be a challenging because his team hasn’t had field time outside. He did note they have been practicing with indoor balls, that allow them to field, throw and see live batting practice with use of portable mounds and batting cages.

Escanaba isn’t a senior heavy team but they do return a lot of experience from last season’s 16-7-1 squad. Bailey Lamb, Devin Olsen and Ben Kleiman round out the senior class. Four juniors return from last year’s team in Tyler Hardwick, Tyler Skufca, Sean Bissell and Lewis Ostrander. Cory Mclnerney, also a junior, is making his first apperance for the Eskymos’ baseball program.

Hunter LaMarch, Logan Lamb, Brandon Punzel and Jack Valentine are the four sophomores. Lamb, who played as a freshman, won’t see the field this year as he recovers from an ACL injury he suffered in football.

Making the jump to high school ball are freshmen Nick Bink, Justin Popelka, Parker LaMarch, Tyler Willette and Christopher Barron.

Schwalbach has yet to determine a starting lineup and said that open competition has made for a competitive spring.

“I’m telling them every day, you’re making the lineup based on what happens in practice,” he said. “They’re all fighting for spots and the practices have been competitive. It will be interesting once we get outside, because we haven’t been outside yet. Appleton North will be a good test for us I’m sure.”

While a lot is uncertain, Schwalbach did note the team’s pitching should be their strong suit. Senior’s Devin Olsen and Ben Kleiman are both returning to the mound after successful junior campaigns. Punzel is expected to be the Eskymos third pitcher. Last season as a freshman, Punzel was named to the All-District team as an outfielder.

Schwalbach said the team has eight players who could see time on the mound this season.

While a batting order hasn’t been established yet, the Eskymos return their top hitters from last season in first baseman Bailey Lamb and Punzel.

The Eskymos’ district features Cheboygan, Petoskey and Sault Ste. Marie. The team is aiming to make it back to regionals, after getting there two seasons ago.

“We’re hoping to be playing our best baseball when we get to districts,” Schwalbach stated. “It’s a process and we’re trying to peak at the end of the year and do something special and win a district and hopefully get to a regional.”

While Escanaba’s lineup remains undetermined, Schwalbach did note his team will have a lot of speed in the outfield and he expects to field a competitive ball club.

“I expect us to compete every game and I would think the kids feel the same way,” Schwalbach said. “We’re not going to step out on the field thinking ever that we’re going to lose. You want to represent the high school, and baseball has always had a great tradition in Escanaba and we want to uphold that, so I’m sure the kids will do their very best to do that. Expectations are always high here.”