Prep softball: A more confident Emilee Wilson of Esko is unbeaten heading into 7AA playoffs
Esko softball coach Jeff Emanuel underscores Emilee Wilson's pitching progression over the years by noting her demeanor in the circle. As a freshman, Wilson was easily rattled, an error here or a run there capable of derailing an outing. She was ...
Esko softball coach Jeff Emanuel underscores Emilee Wilson’s pitching progression over the years by noting her demeanor in the circle.
As a freshman, Wilson was easily rattled, an error here or a run there capable of derailing an outing. She was tense. Wilson then settled in as a sophomore after being thrust into full-time duty.
She’s even more comfortable this spring.
“Now I go out there and she’s cracking jokes,” Emanuel said. “It’s reassuring. You walk away and you’re like, ‘OK, she’s got this.’ ”
Wilson might be laughing, but opposing hitters certainly aren’t.
The hard-throwing junior has Esko (17-2) seeded first entering the Section 7AA playoffs. Wilson has allowed just 11 earned runs in 85 1/3 innings (0.90 ERA) while recording 141 strikeouts and just 29 walks.
A year ago, she unexpectedly morphed into a workhorse for the Eskomos, throwing all but one game. The workload took its toll, though, and Wilson wore down as the season advanced. She nonetheless helped Esko reach the Class AA state tournament, but Emanuel believes “she was drained by the time we got” there.
Fatigue isn’t an issue this time around. Wilson has done the bulk of the pitching, but senior Natalie Putzke, who has made five starts, offers timely reprieves, just enough to keep Wilson humming. It’s made a world of difference.
“Every single game I feel way more fresh than I have in the past,” said Wilson, who is 14-0.
Esko’s offense also gets an assist for that. The Eskomos are averaging 9.9 runs per game, a potency that has resulted in several mercy-rule victories and thus fewer pitches from Wilson, whose .531 batting average is a team best.
Leadoff hitter Mackenzie Holland is hitting .523 and Ashley Pollema is at .508; both have 21 RBIs. Davriana Horvath has smacked three homers.
Of all the offensive support, Wilson quipped: “No complaints here.”
While Wilson can pump her fastball into the low 60s, this spring she’s grown into a polished pitcher instead of merely an overpowering thrower. For that, Emanuel credits current pitching coach Kirsten Miller, as well as his brother, one-time Esko head coach Brad Emanuel, who worked in a similar capacity last year.
One thing they’ve refined is Wilson’s changeup. It isn’t perfect, but it’s improving, giving Wilson the ability to freeze jumpy opponents consumed by her fastball.
Wilson’s confidence has surged. If she gets in a jam, self-inflicted or otherwise, she knows how to wiggle her way out of it. That hasn’t always been the case, which is often true for youngsters occupying that lonely piece of real estate on a softball diamond.
“In the past, if I look at a game where I’ve kind of broken down and gotten frustrated, my pitching has not gotten better,” Wilson said. “This year I’ve just been able to shake off an error or a run.
“It’s a seven-inning game and a lot can happen. I make errors, my team makes errors, but we all back each other up. And I think I perform better when I just let it go.”
Wilson isn’t the only confident Eskomo.
“We’re so confident in her,” Holland, a senior shortstop, said. “She knows what she’s doing. She’s been a leader ever since she started.”
Esko improved from 7-13 in 2015 to 16-7 last season, when the Eskomos made the program’s first trip to state since 2007. They expected another step forward considering only one starter - Elle Emanuel, the coach’s daughter - graduated.
So far, so good.
Esko reeled off a 14-game winning streak that ended in a doubleheader split against Jackson County Central on Friday. And the Eskomos are determined to repeat atop Section 7AA and avenge their 0-2 showing at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn. Last year, Esko had the look of a club that was simply happy to get to state.
The experience was over before they knew it.
“I think their eyes were like, ‘Holy crap, we’re here,’ ” Jeff Emanuel said. “Then all of a sudden after the tournament, it was like, ‘Hey, we got here,’ but they weren’t satisfied. We could have done better.”
Returning will require the Eskomos to navigate a 15-team section that includes Virginia - which narrowly lost to Class AAA power Hermantown 3-2 last week - streaking International Falls, unpredictable Proctor, Rush City and 2016 runner-up Moose Lake-Willow River.
First-round games are today. Esko has a bye and will play either Greenway or Two Harbors on Thursday.
- In Section 7AAA, Hermantown is the No. 1 seed and opens Wednesday against No. 8 Hibbing. The Hawks have qualified for state each of the past four seasons.
- Seven-time defending Section 7A champ Cherry is a No. 2 seed, with Carlton and Nashwauk-Keewatin seeded first in their respective subsections.
- Brackets were not yet available for Section 7AAAA, which opens Thursday.
(Class AAAA and AAA)
- Superior 21-3
- Hermantown 15-4
- Northwestern 17-6
- Cloquet 9-8-1
(Class AA and A)
- Esko 17-2
- Virginia 11-6
- International Falls 13-2
- Carlton 17-3