The Duluth Huskies were bad in the first half of the Northwoods League season, historically bad, so bad it was enough to even make someone like 76-year-old superfan Joe Garson leave Wade Stadium in disgust.
So one couldn’t help but be skeptical when the Huskies talked all warm fuzzies at the half. After all, their pitching staff had more holes than a fishing net.
But skeptics be silent, as evidenced by the Huskies’ stellar 10-4 second-half start, best in the Great Plains East and capped by Friday night’s 11-4 beatdown of the Thunder Bay Border Cats, the Huskies’ seventh-straight victory before 1,099 at Wade Stadium.
“This is kind of what we’ve been anticipating as a staff,” said first-year Huskies manager Marcus Pointer. “We took some lumps, but it’s all come together now.”
It sure came together Friday, with the Huskies pounding out 15 hits. Eight Duluth players had hits, with Alex Tappen and Collin Hopkins leading the way with three apiece, including a monster home run by Tappen. Danny Zimmerman also added a big-time homer to straightaway center, and newcomer Kyle Jacobsen — a Milwaukee Brewers’ draft pick in 2017 — continued his torrid start by going 2-for-4 with a run and RBI.
Jacobsen, a center fielder from Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla., was with the Huskies last year. He is batting .571 through four games, and his return is especially key to a lineup that just lost Northwoods League All-Star Nic Kent, a University of Virginia second baseman whose college coach wanted him back and healthy.
“Nic is a true professional and has a bright future,” Pointer said, before describing Jacobsen in a similar fashion. “Kyle is extremely talented, with skills through the roof. I consider him one of the top prospects in this league.”
The reason Jacobsen joined the Huskies so late is because there was a chance of him hooking up with a Major League Baseball organization. He added a nice basket catch in the fourth inning to snuff out a Border Cats’ rally. After last year's Northwoods League runner-up finish, Jacobsen said he had no qualms about joining a team that struggled in the first half of 2019.
“Last summer was a lot of fun. We obviously did really well and had a great group of guys,” Jacobsen said. “It happens to everybody. Struggling is really all baseball is. It's a grind, it's rough, but staying positive is all you can do. It's all about how you bounce back from it.”
That's just the type of player the Huskies want in their locker room. While Jacobsen has helped shore up the outfield, the Huskies were bringing in infielder Channy Ortiz from Grand Canyon University on Friday night.
Shortstop Max Gamm had two hits and three RBIs on Friday, and second baseman Lance Ford added a hit, run and RBI, so the Huskies’ middle infield isn’t exactly bare.
Meanwhile, on the mound, Ricky Reynoso of University of the Pacific allowed two earned runs in five innings to get the win.
“It starts with pitching,” Pointer said of the Huskies’ second-half turnaround. “We’ve cut down on the walks, and we’re getting quality starting pitching. We’re able to play with a lead, instead of behind all the time, so we continue to run and be aggressive on the base paths. And the guys are playing better defense, too, so it’s just been an all-around better game.”
Augie Isaacson, the 2018 Northwoods League player of the year for the Huskies, was with the Huskies on Thursday and the team had hoped to sign him, but the league put the kibosh to that, having just completed his senior year. Isaacson continues seeking a team to give him a pro tryout.
“Augie is continuing to work out,” Pointer said. “Honestly, I don’t know why he hasn’t been picked up, because he’s kind of put up video-game numbers everywhere he’s been. He’s determined to get in.”
Former Huskies owner Bobby McCarthy attended Friday’s game.