What went wrong with Huskies?

The Duluth Huskies are out of the Northwoods League baseball playoff race, but coach Daniel Hersey said he has noticed little difference in his players since the first day of the season.

Huskies outfielder Brian Hansen
Duluth Huskies outfielder Brian Hansen bobbles a ground ball against Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers on Thursday at Wade Stadium in Duluth. (Clint Austin /

The Duluth Huskies are out of the Northwoods League baseball playoff race, but coach Daniel Hersey said he has noticed little difference in his players since the first day of the season.

They show up early, stay late and work hard in between.

That hasn't changed despite the Huskies' late-season struggles, which continued in Thursday's 11-1 loss to the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers before 872 fans at Wade Stadium. It was Duluth's ninth loss in its past 10 games. During that streak, the Huskies have only scored 20 runs, and six in their past five.

Pitching has been Duluth's strong suit, but when the Huskies (9-20 in second half) struggle on the mound, like they did against Brainerd (11-18), it can get ugly. The offense, meanwhile, continues to get hits but few runs as the team doesn't have enough base-stealers to overcome a lack of power.

"The guys come to work, day in and day out, but we've just been in one of those funks. That happens in baseball," Hersey said. "We've hit the ball hard, but often right at guys, and we've never gotten that blooper to fall in. It's frustrating for the coaches and the players because we all want to win. I love these guys. I couldn't ask for anything more from them."


Northwoods League statistics spell out the Huskies' lack of offense. Through Wednesday, Duluth was 12th in the 16-team league in batting at .251, and was easily the lowest in home runs (9), RBIs (184) and runs (217). Even the Huskies playing in spacious Wade Stadium can't account for that production gap.

"It seems like when we get rolling offensively we're world beaters, but other times, not so much," said Huskies general manager Craig Smith. "We just haven't been able to find much consistency."

Duluth's pitching, meanwhile, has kept them in most games. The Huskies have the second-best ERA in the league at 3.15, but that hasn't helped compensate for a team that has committed 73 errors and averaged just 3.7 runs per game.

Brainerd, which received three hits apiece from Wade Wass and Tommy Reyes on Thursday, finished with 14 hits. Only six of the Lunkers' 11 runs were earned as they took advantage of two Huskies' errors to stretch their lead with a six-run eighth inning.

Duluth had 10 hits but stranded nine runners. Chris Manship, Brian Hansen and Andrew Dixon had two hits each, while Marcus Riewer of Minnesota Duluth had a hit and two walks.

Like last year, the Huskies had a good first half and then a second-half letdown. This season they started 17-13 but now are 26-33 overall. The team has had its share of no-shows and injuries, including the loss of leading hitter Jake Wise to a sore knee after only 20 games, but Hersey wasn't making excuses. Every team in the Northwoods League has those issues.

With nine games left, he just wants to see effort.

"Like I told the guys, 'As long as we play hard and finish strong, and keep getting better every day, the goal has been achieved,' " Hersey said. "This league is about guys getting better, and I think they have."

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 or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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