Carlton pairs up wins
There were times Tuesday when all Grace Macor could do was focus on freshman catcher Hannah Benson's black face paint.
"It was all over her eyes," said Macor, a Carlton sophomore pitcher, "even her eye lids!"
Still, it was the duo of underclassmen who helped keep a lid on a pair of Polar League visitors Tuesday in the Bulldogs' 8-3 win over Silver Bay, followed by a 4-2 victory past Two Harbors in a doubleheader at a sunny Chub Lake Park.
In fact, Macor and Benson haven't sat out yet, centering Carlton to four victories in their opening four contests.
"Grace has all four wins and Hannah has caught all four games," said first-year Bulldogs Coach Callie Langdon. "You can tell they're synced up with each other. They work well -- and that's hard to find, especially at a small school like Carlton."
Macor, a varsity player since seventh grade, is a hard-throwing righty, who -- at 6-feet tall -- commands a demanding drop ball. Benson, meanwhile, is the team's cleanup hitter, supplying home run power at the right side of the plate along with catching.
Catching all 14 innings with her partner Tuesday, Benson also added a run-scoring double against Silver Bay, while Macor recorded 20 combined strikeouts, although admitting she tired.
That's when, in game two, Benson asked for time to talk.
"We know each other well," Benson said of Macor. "If a couple of balls get by me, she's the first to come my way, and if she's struggling, I'll just know it. We have a good thing going."
The teenagers spend about nine straight months per year together, playing spring softball, summer softball and then volleyball after that. Benson said she now calls pitches for Macor, although Macor always has the ultimate say.
"She'll shake me off 10 times," Benson said with a laugh.
"If I don't get what I like, I'll shake my head," added Macor, "but I trust her back there. She's going to make the right call."
Making the right calls Tuesday, Macor and Benson were aided by teammates Myranda Papesh, Stacy Nelson and Macy Belich -- all with multiple hits -- while lone senior leadoff hitter and second baseman Brooke Camps was stellar in the field.
Carlton (4-0) trailed early in both games Tuesday until taking advantage in the third inning of each contest. The Bulldogs, which have outscored their opponents 39-5 thus far, will now attempt to play 10 games in the next seven school days.
Langdon said she'll be smart using her duo in the middle.
"Those two are a solid core -- they're there for a reason," she said. "They do well, but we need to keep them healthy."
"There's pressure, but I love it," said Macor about playing game after game with Macor. "We are really close."
Barnum beat Cook County 19-15 and lost 6-3 to McGregor in a conference doubleheader Tuesday. The host Bombers, coached by Sarah MacDonald, scored a season-high run total against the Vikings, but committed six errors against the Mercuries in the twin billing.
Cromwell-Wright was toppled 13-7 at East Central last week, but produced their highest run output in a calendar year. Like some, first-year Coach Terry Sawdey and the Cardinals have yet to play at home.
Esko eased by league rival Moose Lake-Willow River 17-2 last week, led by their home run power, including a grand slam. Coach Brad Emanuel's Eskomos, like the baseball team, has played four games, all which will be on the road this year due to park construction.
Moose Lake-Willow River ripped by visiting Cook County 10-0 in five innings at Willow River Tuesday. The Rebels, coached by first-year Kelly Goeb, also have beaten Barnum, Silver Bay and McGregor.
South Ridge ran by Nashwauk-Keewatin, but has lost to defending Class A state champion Cherry and Hill City -- all on the road -- as Tim Anvid and his Panthers have yet to play at their new complex.
Cloquet counted its first win of the season, as the Lumberjacks leapt by league foe Superior 5-1 Tuesday across the bridge. Coach Ron Tondryk's team -- a state tournament participant a season ago -- played cleanly, following early losses to Hermantown and at Virginia. (See story on Page B4)