Duluth East’s Vos comes up big as Huskies edge Express in Northwoods League playoff opener
Duluth had lost all eight regular-season meetings against Eau Claire prior to Sunday night.
DULUTH — Duluth Huskies outfielder and Duluth East graduate Joe Vos was asked at what point he and his teammates knew they could finally beat the Eau Claire Express.
“I think it was when we walked into the locker room,” Vos said.
Eau Claire had beaten Duluth in all eight regular-season meetings this season, but on Sunday evening the Huskies said eight is enough.
Vos’ two-run single in the bottom of the seventh inning lifted Duluth to an 8-6 victory over Eau Claire in their best-of-three Northwoods League playoff opener before 501 boisterous fans at Wade Stadium.
Those fans and their team appeared to be more juiced up than normal for this one.
“Seeing that Duluth crowd all riled up, it was awesome,” said Vos, one of four former Duluth East Greyhounds on the Huskies' roster after the team added Isaac Fugere. Twins Caden and Jaxon Edwards are the others. “It was an amazing feeling. I still don’t know how to describe it. If I get asked the same question tomorrow morning I think I’m going to have a different response. It was a good time.”
The series moves to Carson Park in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for Game 2 Monday and potentially Game 3 Tuesday.
“Once we get into the stadium the jitters will be there, but after that it’s just a matter of getting used to the field and getting used to the crowd,” Vos said. “It’s going to be loud, but I think the guys are going to come out focused and ready to play.”
The game was tied 5-5 when the Huskies loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh. Duluth went up 6-5 when Cam Frederick drew a walk to score Eddie Satisky. But still with no outs, it appeared the Huskies were going to squander the opportunity after back-to-back strikeouts.
That’s when Vos came up.
Vos fell behind in the count 0-2 before working it to full. Then he got the payoff pitch, a two-seam fastball he deposited with a flare to left field that the Huskies cashed in for two runs.
Vos got to first base, spun around and faced the crowd, flapping his arms upward toward the crowd.
“The emotion was just pouring out of me,” Vos said. “I couldn’t keep it in. I stepped into the box. I was confident, feeling really good, seeing balls really well today and when I got that pitch I just tried to do what I could with it.”
That’s not to say the Express went down quietly.
Eau Claire threatened in each of the next two innings, but in the eighth, Isaac Rohde got Cadyn Schwabe to ground into a 4-6-3 double play — a real dagger to end the threat as Huskies poured out of the dugout to congratulate their teammates.
“Cadyn is our best runner,” longtime Express coach Dale Varsho said. “He leads the league in stolen bases. He’s tough to double up. You could tell by that time, it was like, ‘Oh, boy.’”
This one was like two heavyweights going at it, blow for blow, for an entertaining nine rounds.
Eau Claire pushed across a run in the ninth to make it 8-6 before Rohde got a strikeout to end it.
“It’s fun,” Varsho said. “Playoff atmosphere, and we’re pretty similar teams. We’re going to swing the bats, they’re going to swing the bats, it makes for great games to watch. Even though we beat them all year long, it has nothing to do with the playoffs. It’s just fun to be one of the eight teams left. This is what it all comes down to. Both teams fought hard.”
Duluth coach Marcus Pointer agreed.
There were some concerns the Huskies might come out flat. They played Saturday night at Willmar and the game didn’t end until 10:30 p.m. They didn’t arrive back in Duluth until 3:45 a.m. Sunday, but they were allowed to sleep in and didn’t have to be to the ballpark until 1:30 p.m.
Eau Claire jumped out with three runs in the top of the first, but Duluth answered with three of its own, with Jonathan Vastine and Kristian Campbell setting the tone with extra-base hits in that inning and making dramatic celebrations at third. Campbell even slapped his palms to the artificial turf before quickly raising them above his head.
“We’ve had guys who have been competitive and resilient all season long,” Pointer said. “Johnny got a first-pitch (double and advanced to third on an error) to start it and then Kristian … that guy is electric. When he’s on the bases you never know what’s going to happen. He got two huge runs on two strikeouts (where the third strike was dropped). He’s aggressive, and it’s worked out for us, so we’re not about to rein him back.”
Vastine had three hits and two runs and Campbell had two hits, two runs and two RBIs.
Vos only had one hit, but as previously mentioned, it was a big one.
“The energy was awesome,” Vos said. “It was fueled by my teammates, it was fueled by the crowd. Totally amazing.”