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Cloquet team takes first at local state tournament

Minnesota Xplosion center fielder Lizz Jezierski (from Cloquet) gets a hit while Coach Tyler Korby looks on during the USSSA softball tournament at Braun Park on Saturday. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 2
Cloquet's Jade Benko smashes a hit for the Minnesota Blast in the USSSA softball tournament at Braun Park on Saturday. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 2

Cloquet was the place to be last weekend for softball fans, as 34 teams in age brackets from U-10 to U-18 took part in the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) northern state tournament.

Six of those teams featured Cloquet-based players and one of them, the U-18 Minnesota Silver Bullets, won its division.

"We had a good weekend and the crowds were good," Silver Bullets Coach Tyler Korby said. "It was good to have the tournament in Cloquet. The place was buzzing and that's what it's supposed to be about."

Korby, who also assists Ron Tondryk with the Cloquet varsity softball program, coached two of the teams in the event -- the Silver Bullets and the U-14 Minnesota Blast.

"The teams I have aren't as Cloquet-based as they used to be, but we have local players and other players from around the area," Korby said. "We have players from a widespread area."

The Silver Bullets have one Cloquet player and four from Carlton, with the balance of the roster coming from Superior and the Iron Range.

A second local U-18 team, also called the Minnesota Blast, is coached by Kerry Rodd and is made up mostly of Cloquet High School varsity players. That team finished third in the U-18 bracket and faced the Silver Bullets in the tournament.

"That was fun, to coach against Kerry," Korby said. "I assisted him for a long time so it was fun to take what I learned into a game against his players."

The tournament featured 89 games over three days, with Cloquet fielding a U-10 team, two U-12 teams, two U-14 teams and the Silver Bullets and U-18 Blast.

It also made for a busy weekend for Korby, who once achieved notoriety for coaching both teams in a Lake Superior Fast Pitch League game.

"I love the sport of softball," Korby said. "I like helping the girls learn the game and making the Cloquet girls better. It's something I like to do and I do it all the time."

Last weekend, he did it literally. Korby's teams played 12 games in three days and played seven on Saturday alone.

"None of my teams played at the same time in the brackets and they were nice enough to schedule pool play games around me so I wasn't in two places at once," Korby said. "But we were out there from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m."

As if that isn't enough, Korby also assists with Tondryk's U-14 Minnesota Dynamite, which is made up of first-year players, and he estimates he has coached 80 games in 46 days.

The very late spring and the very short high school season makes a full summer of softball necessary for player improvement.

"That's about getting in games and getting repetitions," Korby said. "It's not about wins and losses, but it is about the girls learning and getting better throughout the summer. We've seen a lot of improvement since the beginning of the spring."

The U-18 Blast, for example, has played 45 games this summer alone, with a tournament still to play. Korby's U-14 Blast have been almost as busy, but their highlight over the weekend was a walk-off 5-4 win against the eventual age-bracket champion Minnesota Snow Cats.

"To see the smiles after that was a lot of fun," Korby said.

The Silver Bullets have punched their tickets for a USSSA regional event next week in Rockford, Ill.

"They're declared a state champion and they get a berth in the Central Region World Series," Korby said. "It's tough to raise funds but the kids are ready to go."

Rodd's U-18 Blast are playing in a regional tournament in Rochester from July 31 through Aug. 2 as well.

The end of the Lake Superior Fast Pitch league season, in which most of the local teams play, will finally mean a period of rest for Korby.

"I brought the team shirts and hats with me on Saturday and I'd go into the bathroom to change them between games," he said. "A guy told me that sooner or later I'm bound to win a championship when I coach six teams!"