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Northwoods League baseball: Growlers down Huskies in Summer Collegiate World Series

Duluth was going for its first title in four championship-game appearances.

Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Anthony Stephan (13) of the Kalamazoo Growlers is tagged out by Jared Mettam (7) of the Duluth Huskies during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The regulars showed up early at Wade Stadium Thursday and appeared to have a little added bounce in their step.

This was bonus baseball, a chance to play for the Northwoods League championship, an opportunity to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” one more time.

This was fun, but the game didn’t quite go as planned.

Jerad Berkenpas overcame a shaky start to log six strong innings to lead the Kalamazoo Growlers to their first Northwoods League championship, an 8-3 victory over the Duluth Huskies in the Summer Collegiate World Series Thursday night before 784 at Wade Stadium.

Along the way to this improbable final, Duluth swept Eau Claire 2-0. The Express had gone 8-0 against the Huskies during the regular season. Kalamazoo, meanwhile, knocked off Wisconsin Rapids, which had the best record in the 22-team league this year at 57-15.

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Baseball players compete in championship during night game
The Kalamazoo Growlers raise the championship trophy at the conclusion of the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth. The Growlers defeated the Huskies 8-3 to win the championship.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Growlers coach Cody Piechocki was asked what was the secret to the Growlers’ postseason success.

“I keep telling people this has been a fun team,” he said. “They love baseball, that’s what I think happened. A lot of people, you get late in the season, they start counting down to go home. These guys were so excited to be here. They love baseball so much, and it showed. That’s nine wins in a row to finish the summer.”

While that crowd number might not seem like a lot for a title game, it was on par with most of the other postseason games this year and came on short notice. Kalamazoo’s 8-6 victory over Wisconsin Rapids took 10 innings and more than four hours to complete, not getting done until after 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. The crowd was treated to a comfortable summer night, with the rain holding off and the temperature staying in the high 60s until the end.

“We knew it was going to be easy getting here,” Piechocki said. “This crowd was amazing. When they got it to 7-2, they made it feel like it was 7-6. It was unbelievable.”

The game was at Wade Stadium in Duluth due to a matter of decimal points: the Huskies, 34-33 in the regular season, vs. the Growlers, 36-35. Duluth got the NWL tiebreaker edge based on winning percentage, .5075 vs. .5070. Yeah, that’s splitting hairs.

Baseball players compete in championship during night game
The Duluth Huskies watch as the Kalamazoo Growlers celebrate after winning 8-3 during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“I’ll take it,” a smiling Jon Winter said before the game; Winter has now attended every Duluth Huskies and Duluth-Superior Dukes home game since June 15, 1993, a span of more than 1,100 contests. “One similarity this team had with the Dukes’ 1997 championship team is that team featured a great shortstop in Ken Arnold, and this year’s Huskies team featured a great shortstop in Kristian Campbell. If you’re strong up the middle, at catcher, at short, at center field, you’ll go far.”

Unlike that ’97 Dukes team, the Huskies are still seeking their first title having come up empty in four chances now.

That includes title game appearances in 2004, 2013 and 2018, when Duluth had a stellar 47-25 record — best in franchise history — only to fall to Fond du Lac at Wade Stadium.

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This contest was eerily similar to 2018 as the Huskies missed opportunities and botched some plays they don’t normally botch. The first inning set the tone as the Huskies got runners on second and third and nobody out but failed to score.

“I’ve said it all year long, these guys are a competitive, resilient group,” Duluth manager Marcus Pointer said. “They didn’t go down. They were fighting the whole way. They stayed engaged. We just came up a little short, but I’m proud as ever of these guys.”

Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Jack Painter (14) of the Duluth Huskies rounds third base on the way to scoring the first run for the Huskies against Kalamazoo during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Berkenpas logged 21 pitches in that first inning alone but settled down after that.

Anthony Stephan, Alex Calarco and Zach Spradlin had three hits apiece and Ryan Dykstra chipped in two hits and two RBIs as the Growlers finished with 15 hits.

Eddy Rosario had two hits, including a double that just missed being a home run, and an RBI to lead the Huskies.

“It was awesome,” Rosario said. “We came here this summer with two goals: to get better, and obviously at the end, to win a championship. We came up short, but we kept fighting all the way until the end. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud of all the guys.”

Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Joe Vos (1) of the Duluth Huskies hits the ball against the Kalamazoo Growlers during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Joe Vos (1) of the Duluth Huskies fields a ground ball against the Kalamazoo Growlers during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Dale "Hoagie" Haagenson cheers for the Huskies during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Jeremy Keller (23) of the Duluth Huskies hits the ball against the Kalamazoo Growlers during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Isaac Rohde (9) of the Duluth Huskies pitches the ball against the Kalamazoo Growlers during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
The Duluth Huskies watch as the Kalamazoo Growlers celebrate after winning 8-3 during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Tyler Moniz-Witten (17) of the Duluth Huskies pitches the ball against the Kalamazoo Growlers during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Eamon Horwedel (20) celebrates after the final out of the game against the Duluth Huskies during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth. The Growlers defeated the Huskies 8-3 to win the championship.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Members of the Kalamazoo Growlers pile on the pitchers mound while celebrating a 8-3 victory over the Duluth Huskies during the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Members of the Kalamazoo Growlers pose with the championship trophy at the conclusion of the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth. The Growlers defeated the Huskies 8-3.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Baseball players compete in championship during night game
Dale "Hoagie" Haagenson speaks to the fans at the end of the Northwoods League title game, known as the Summer Collegiate World Series, at Wade Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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