St. Scholastica pitcher Joe Gonrowski had a stint in the Northwoods League late last summer with the Eau Claire Express, but when the Duluth Huskies approached him about joining them this season, he couldn't believe it.
"I was ecstatic," Gonrowski said. "It means a lot to me, representing my school and the city of Duluth. It was something that was in the back of my mind that I was really hoping for, because it's a great community, and they really support their local players."
Gonrowski is on a roster that includes North Dakota State closer Kevin Folman of Hermantown and Minnesota Duluth starter and Virginia High School graduate Ryan Cunningham. They haven't disappointed, sporting three of the Huskies' top four ERAs.
"I've seen them pitch and knew they could do this, and their work ethic is off the charts," Huskies manager Daniel Hersey said. "I knew coming in that those guys were going to work hard and their performance would show. It's always fun to have local guys. The fans know their names, and it's nice having that familiarity when they come out and see them play. It's good for our organization, and it's good for the Duluth area."
Folman (1-0, 0.00 ERA) has been nearly unhittable, allowing five hits and no runs in 9 2/3 innings, with 14 strikeouts. He has a team-leading six saves and fits the mold of a closer, challenging hitters with good movement and velocity. Though he wasn't drafted last week, Folman was listed for North Dakota in MLB.com's list of top prospects by state.
"I love his approach," said Les Pajari, Huskies' senior director of baseball operations. "Old school, let's see who's better today. It's a big-league mentality."
Folman, a 6-foot-2 right-hander, is in his third season with the Huskies, blowing his arm out in his second summer with the team and having Tommy John surgery in August 2015. His only drawback is that he is on a temporary contract and will only be with the team until June 30, per his coaches' orders at North Dakota State. He will continue to watch Huskies' games while working locally as a coach with Vintage Sports Camp.
"My coaches have my best interests in mind, and while it might take a little convincing, I'll eventually agree to it knowing a break is what's best for me," Folman said. "It's hard to stop pitching when you're pitching well, but I've been throwing ever since my Tommy John rehab, over a year and a half straight, so I'm going to need a break here eventually."
Cunningham (1-1, 0.54 ERA) has allowed only one earned run in 16 and 2/3 innings, with nine strikeouts. The 6-4 left-hander has good offspeed pitches and has a full contract for the summer.
"Ryan has given us a chance to win every time he's gone out there, and that's all we can ask from the guy," Hersey said.
Gonrowski (0-2, 0.96 ERA) has allowed just one earned run in 9 1/3 innings, with 13 strikeouts and a save. He could be a contender to fill Folman's closing role once he departs. The 5-9 Gonrowski isn't overpowering but crafty.
"Joe fills up the zone," Hersey said. "He locates extremely well and sneaks up on hitters with his fastball. He's just an extremely hard worker and great kid."
Gonrowski, of Elk River, Minn., will be a senior at St. Scholastica this fall. He has enjoyed plenty of success at Wade Stadium in the spring with the Saints, and now in the summer with the Huskies. He said he never could have imagined that when he made the decision to head north to play college baseball.
"I've loved it here," he said. "Duluth is great, and I can't say anything bad about Scholastica or the baseball program there. They've both treated me amazing. If I could do it all over again, I'd choose the same thing."
Huskies 5, Border Cats 2
Duluth opened up a four-game homestand with a victory over Thunder Bay at Wade Stadium.
For the second straight night, the Huskies (12-10) scored all their runs in one inning. Duluth took a 5-0 lead in the third, broken open by Dean Nevarez's three-RBI double. The Huskies left multiple runners on base in four of the last five innings, but were unable to score a run with only four hits.
Behind six innings of no-hit ball from Garrett Brown, Duluth was in line for its first shutout win of the season. However Brown allowed two singles and a run to lead off the seventh inning, before being relieved by Nick Scheidler.
Scheidler, one of four UCLA players who joined the team Wednesday, including returner Jake Pries, allowed a run but escaped a bases-loaded jam.
The Border Cats (8-15) rallied with runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but Folman shut the door on Thunder Bay by getting out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the ninth to earn his sixth save of the season.
The teams meet again at 6:35 p.m. today at Wade Stadium.
Huskies' Iron Fan
Jon Winter was concerned before the season that his Huskies' Iron Fan streak would end this month but au contraire, mon frere.
"It continues," Winter confirmed Wednesday after arriving at Wade Stadium more than 90 minutes before the game. "Yeah, we made it."
Wednesday was Winter's 942nd straight Duluth Huskies and Duluth-Superior Dukes home game since attending the Dukes' home opener June 15, 1993. One can only imagine how many dreary June nights he has spent at Wade Stadium during that time, with fog, drizzle and frigid conditions.
Winter began serving in April as chairperson for the Town of Lakeside, just east of Superior. The concern stemmed from their monthly meetings the second Tuesday of each month, but on Tuesday, June 13, Winter was able to get to the Huskies' game about the fifth inning.
Don't think Winter is crazy just yet.
"I think I was late one other time, but I arrived like the second inning, coming from work," he said. "There may have been one other time I was late, and I've left early, too. If it's 15-2, and it's freezing cold out, forget this."