Record-breaking marks at the plate fuel unforgettable season for Huskies – Duluth News Tribune

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DULUTH — Aspirations of a second-straight Northwoods League championship game appearance were dashed for the Duluth Huskies this summer, with the team finishing fourth (36-32) in a highly competitive Great Plains East Division.

The lack of postseason success did not equate to lack of excitement, however, as single-season team batting records were toppled and the team’s first Most Valuable Player award-winner since 2018 was crowned in what was an unforgettable 20th season of Northwoods League baseball for the club.

Fargo native and second-year shortstop Michael Hallquist earned the league’s top honor after setting a new single-season record for home runs with 15 in his second stint with the club.

A baseball player posing and smiling.

Duluth Huskies second baseman Michael Hallquist poses ahead of the Huskies’ game with La Crosse on July 19 at Wade Stadium in Duluth.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

The soon-to-be junior at Division I Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana said the accomplishment means even more after taking his lumps as a temporary player last season.

“It’s pretty incredible, especially coming into the Northwoods the first year and not having success. I grinded really hard and I really wanted it day in and day out,” he said. ”I think it’s just a nice honor to have, and (if you) just keep working hard, great things will happen.”

Hallquist is the first member of the Huskies to win the award since Augie Isaacson of Friends University in Wichita, Kansas accomplished the feat in 2018, when he led the league in batting average (.364), stolen bases (39), on-base percentage (.467), runs (59) and triples (5) in a North Division championship-winning season.

080318.S.DNT_.HUSKIESc2.jpg

Augie Isaacson of the Duluth Huskies slides into second base during the Duluth Huskies game against the Mankato MoonDogs at Wade Stadium in Duluth. Isaacson was the 2018 Northwoods League MVP.

Tyler Schank / 2018 File / Duluth News Tribune

Hallquist’s 65 RBIs were surpassed only by Buckeye, Arizona native Brandon Compton, who etched his name in the team’s single-season record books as well with 71 RBIs.

Compton, who is entering his sophomore year with Arizona State University, spent the entirety of his freshman year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, which added an additional layer of excitement for his first season with the Huskies.

The right fielder spent the season as a fixture in the middle of the Huskies’ lineup where the inner-competition among the team’s big bats led to explosive numbers at the plate.

“I’d say that my favorite part was just the competitiveness of it. I mean we have a bunch of guys putting up big numbers and we were just competing each and every day to, I guess, be the best in the lineup,” Compton said. “I mean some days obviously you’re not the best and you’re competing with each other, and you have down days and good days and you know that was just the competition aspect.”

Behind batting leaders Hallquist, Compton, Calyn Halvorson, Josh Duarte and Brylan West, the Huskies shattered their previous season-high run totals dating back to 2009 with 525 and (prior to Saturday’s 14-3 season-finale victory over the Thunder Bay Border Cats at Wade Stadium) a league-leading batting average of .292 with 690 hits.

college men playing baseball

Brylan West (35) of the Huskies hits the ball against the Honkers at Wade Stadium on June 21 in Duluth.

Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

For context, the Huskies hit .246 with 561 hits and 14 home runs last season.

Despite the unprecedented success in the batter’s box, the Huskies failed to earn a spot in the postseason like in 2022, while fielding a slightly better overall record and outscoring last year’s team by over 160 runs.

Duluth’s pitching staff did see a slight regression from last year with a 6.10 team ERA compared to last year’s mark of 4.85.

A pitcher throws the ball.

Jayce James (10) prepares to fire a pitch for the Duluth Huskies on July 19 in the rain during their game against La Crosse at Wade Stadium in Duluth.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Huskies’ manager Marcus Pointer pointed to the big innings allowed defensively as one of the biggest issues that plagued the team over the course of the season.

“We had some blowup innings where we’d give up six or seven in an inning,” he said. “If we could’ve eliminated those and (kept) those to a minimum where it’s one or two runs (it would have helped). Our offense has always been (allowing) us to come back and we’ve seen it. We’ve had multiple walk-off wins and large comebacks, so again, it’s just kind of limiting those big inning damages (that) would have served us a better purpose and given us a better shot late.”

The Huskies still managed to rattle off seven-straight wins in late July, but struggled to gain any ground in a tightly contested Great Plains East Division race with front-runners La Crosse and Waterloo playing their best baseball in the second half of the season.

Average attendance sees slight increase from last season

Average home attendance for the Duluth Huskies saw a slight uptick this season in comparison to 2022, but still remains far below its marks set over the last decade.

Last year, the club finished with the lowest average attendance among all Northwoods League teams after drawing just 726 fans per game, a stark difference when compared to perennial league-leader Madison Mallards, which averaged 5,550.

The Huskies made some progress this season, however, with 813 fans per game and 27,627 overall, which is the team’s highest mark since the 2019 season (944) when the team drew 33,989 fans that summer.

In the years leading up to COVID, the franchise routinely averaged over 1,000 people in attendance, including an average of 1,611 (58,004 total) in 2016 in which it ranked seventh in the Northwoods League.

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