Jake Brill was back in his hometown of Maple earlier this summer mowing lawns and doing yard work when he got a phone call from Duluth Huskies manager Marcus Pointer asking how soon he could be available.

“Tomorrow,” Brill told him.

While Brill said it was tough, he had to tell his “clients” he couldn’t mow their yards anymore.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m playing for the Huskies,’” he said.

Those clients, undoubtedly, had to respect a kid chasing his dream.

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Brill said he wanted to thank the Huskies. The 2020 Northwestern High School graduate has been a valuable platoon player as Duluth has suddenly made a strong playoff push after winning three straight games for the first time since early July going into Friday’s 6:35 p.m. home contest against Bismarck.

If Duluth (29-37) wins or Eau Claire (27-39) loses either of their last two games, the Huskies would clinch as they had a two-game lead in the overall standings with only two games remaining.

“I grew up watching the Huskies,” Brill said. “We used to come to the ballpark when I was a little kid, and now here I am, years later, standing out on the field, in the same uniforms. It’s pretty special. I’m very grateful for this opportunity I’ve been given, and I just try to go out there every day and make the most of it.”

Through Thursday, Brill was batting .292, with seven hits, six runs and four walks in just 24 at-bats. And the Huskies certainly aren’t going to complain about his .414 on-base percentage. Spot duty isn’t for everybody but when called, Brill has delivered.

“It’s definitely tough,” Huskies field manager Marcus Pointer said of pinch hitting. “That’s an acquired skill, but his first at bat, he came off the bench in Bismarck and had a really good at-bat (leading to a hit), and he got himself in the lineup the next day. He’s shown he can definitely help us. If it comes down to it, and we do get into the playoffs, he’ll probably be playing every day.”

Brill has also excelled in the outfield, mostly in center. Brill played shortstop for the Northwestern Tigers but has played in the outfield since college.

“It’s a heckuva lot easier than infield,” Brill said, drawing a laugh. “Just run and catch the ball and then throw it to the guy waving his arms in the air.”

Brill attended Winona State and this past spring batted .213 with a .315 on-base percentage. He appeared in 31 games, starting nine of them, with 10 hits, six walks and four runs in 47 at-bats. Brill, however, said it wasn’t a good fit and transferred to Des Moines Area Community College, DMACC (pronounced D-MACC) for short.

“In high school I saw very very subpar pitching,” Brill said. “The NSIC (which includes Winona State) is a pretty decent NCAA Division II league. So I went from seeing in high school like 70 mph everyday and then going to 85, 90, that’s a pretty big jump. We’ve got great coaches and everything, which is huge. Every day I come here and just try to get a little better, and hopefully I can show that on the field.”

The connection with Brill was easy as his parents went to high school with Huskies general manager Greg Culver, who is from Lake Nebagamon. He got a workout in the middle of summer and once a spot was available, made his debut with the Huskies July 22.

“Jake dropped what he was doing and came out here, and he’s obviously doing quite well for himself,” Pointer said. “He got a good opportunity and is making the most of it.”

For Brill, not only has this summer been an eye opener athletically, it’s also been a bit of a cultural experience.

“I like meeting new people, and hearing their stories from all over the country, it’s pretty sweet,” Brill said. “It’s good to know that I can play with these kids who attend some of the biggest schools in the country. It’s encouraging.”

Huskies hone in on playoffs

After a rough first half, and some ugly stumbles in the second half, the Huskies were on the verge of a playoff berth going into Friday night.

“We don’t like to scoreboard watch,” Pointer said. “We know if we take care of our business we’ll be fine.”

That approach has worked quite well as of late.

“These last few games have been huge,” Pointer said. “We’ve been preaching to them to remember those dog days in June, where we had some rough games, that it would be special to put things together and get ourselves into the playoffs.”

While it helps being in a division where only one team has a winning record, give credit to the Huskies for playing much better in the second half.

“It’s definitely a competitive group,” Huskies field manager Marcus Pointer said. “They’re just excited that we gave ourselves a chance after a tough first half. Some of these rallied around each other and stuck it out, and now we’re in a position to make a run for it.

Jon Nowacki covers sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027.