Bulldogs bounced from the postseason
The Carlton Bulldogs ended their season on a 3-0 loss to Nashwauk-Keewatin in a Section 7A softball contest that lasted eight innings at Portage Park in Cohasset.
The extra-inning game, which was scoreless through regulation, turned when speedy Spartan slap-hitter Stacie Lokken slashed her way on base early in the eighth. After stealing second base, Lokken was attempting to take third when Carlton catcher Hannah Benson's throw went past the base and into the outfield. Eventually, the Spartans scored three runs and Carlton (15-3) couldn't respond in the bottom half of the inning with their heavy bats.
One of those bats was Benson's, who has produced over-the-fence power from the third position in the batting order. With one home run this season, along with one of the area's highest batting averages, the right-handed- slugging Benson had two hits Tuesday, sandwiching a pair of intentional walks in the third and fifth innings for a perfect average.
"She's a good hitter — probably one of the best hitters we've seen," said Nashwauk-Keewatin assistant and pitching Coach Larry Depaulis, who will coach Benson this summer as a part of the Minnesota Silver Bullets. "We weren't going to let her beat us."
Beating Carlton wasn't easy this spring. The Bulldogs, seeded second in the section, won their first nine games of the season around Benson, junior pitching ace Grace Macor — who had 12 strikeouts Tuesday — and a bundle of athletic teammates, many of whom competed on Carlton's state volleyball tournament team last fall.
The fourth-seeded Spartans needed to use bunting and small bats to best Carlton Tuesday, a technique top-seeded Littlefork-Big Falls used last Thursday when upping the Bulldogs 13-8 in a game at Braun Park in Cloquet where the Vikings once trailed by as many as a half a dozen runs.
"It's something we have to work on next year," said Carlton Coach Callie Langdon of her team's bunt defense. "But these girls have nothing to hang their heads about."
"Everyone improved, I know I did, and other girls can say that, too," added Benson. "We wanted to win — you always want to go as far as you can. But we're happy with the team we ended up with."
Centerfielder Myranda Papesh, one of three graduating seniors, agreed, noting Tuesday was likely her final softball game played.
"It was very tough — I wasn't expecting it to end this fast," said Papesh, a three-year varsity member. "I loved it and I'll definitely miss it. I couldn't have asked for a better group of girls to play with."
Many of those girls will be back again next spring, including Benson, who only hopes for a better ending to the season.
"It was disappointing," Benson said of the defeat. "But we talked on the bus and only counted two or three bad innings of softball all season, so we can't be sad about that."