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Braun Park serves up USSSA state softball success

Grace Dushkin of the Minnesota Blast 13's slides safely into third base during a USSSA softball tournament game against the Moose Lake-Willow River DQ Blizzards at Braun Park on Sunday. Dave Harwig/ 1 / 5
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CLOQUET—Josie Steen plays the game of softball with a smile on her face, but when the Minnesota Blast’s 13-year-old first baseman belted a clutch hit last Sunday afternoon, the many closely watching around Braun Park smiled along with her.

Steen smacked an eventual game-winning double down the right field line to help the Minnesota Blast 13s to a 6-4 come-from-behind upset over the Minnesota Thunderboltz ’99 as a part of a wild game at the United States Special Sports Association’s northern state tournament last weekend at Braun Park in Cloquet.

After Steen’s double, which scored teammates Raeann Barney and Libby Rix, the young teenager displayed a huge fist pump on second base as the surrounding crowd went wild.

“I thought [the hit] was going to go foul,” admitted Steen, who eventually scored on a game-icing blooper by classmate Savannah Lyytinen. “Then I just heard my coach yelling ‘Go two!’ I knew we could pull it off. Our team was just spot-on.”

The Blast 13s, coached by Tyler Korby, used all 13 players to shock the Thunderboltz — a club team based out of Lakeville, Minn. — for a fourth win on the weekend, later earning a third-place trophy at the U-14 level, one of the county’s best finishes.

Steen’s parents, Doug and Krista, and older sister, 16-year-old Kassidy, were all watching the game. Afterward, Kassidy, a first baseman for the Blast 18s which also beat the Thunderboltz 18s 3-2 on Saturday evening, gave her sister a deserved hug.

“It was awesome — I was so proud of her,” Kassidy said. “I really don’t know what to say. Everyone just went crazy.”

Success was abundant for the Cloquet-based Blast, where Coach Steve Martin’s 14s were an unbeaten top seed after Saturday’s pool play, while Coach Kerry Rodd’s 18s played right along with two Twin Cities’ club teams, despite an ultra-young roster where less than half can legally drive a car.

“Our 15-year-olds are facing some kids who just went to college — that’s incredible,” said Rodd. “I’ve been impressed.”

Rodd, also assisted by Ron Tondryk, added the Blast programs have all been impressive throughout this summer.

“At all levels,” Rodd said, “it has been fun to watch.”

USSSA Director Scott Brown watched plenty of competition throughout a weekend that included 72 games between 38 teams four age levels on six separate fields.

Brown, who lives in Andover, Minn., with his wife Erin, said the family-organized grounds crew was awesome, as well as the dry weather, umpiring staff and parade of teams.

The U-10 championship between Cloquet and Twin Ports Rampage even went to extra innings, with Cloquet ultimately falling 7-6.

“We climbed on the jungle gym to get a photo of that game,” said Brown, who already said the state tournament will be back at Braun next summer. “All of it was perfect. It went off without a hitch.”