Carlton's Grace Macor hasn't yet played a full season of softball with Cloquet's Shania Paulson, but it took only one play for her to see her teammate's love for the game.
Macor was pitching late in the last inning of Saturday's game when -- with the winning run on base -- Paulson propelled her body forward and stabbed the final line-drive out to preserve the Minnesota Silver Bullets' 4-3 victory.
"Shania's catch should have been on ESPN's Top 10," said Macor, who excitedly congratulated Paulson after the play. "Smiles lit up all of our faces when we watched that play."
Although she's 19 years old and finished with her freshman year at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Paulson is age eligible and enjoying a final chance to play her favorite sport with the 18-and-Under Bullets (15-5).
A 5-foot-5 third baseman who can hit for power, Paulson said Monday she began playing baseball at age 6, before switching to softball in sixth grade. Paulson, a 2012 Cloquet graduate who helped the Lumberjacks to a school-best third-place finish at the state tournament, plays the game hard. She is never afraid of hurting herself or getting her uniform dirty.
"I've always liked playing around in the dirt, rolling around -- Shania style, I guess," said Paulson, who lives just a half-mile from Cloquet's Braun Park. "It's more fun that way. Yeah, a little risky, but I've never been severely injured.
"I'm just happy to be able to be playing," continued Paulson, who won't play at FDLTCC next spring, but rather focus on her studies instead and possibly play bar league slowpitch around work next summer. "Most people don't get the chance to travel and play. It's just special I get to do that."
When she plays, Paulson opts not to wear the commonly-used defensive facemask nowadays. Her mother, Colleen, said her daughter used to wear a mouthguard when she played.
"Then it got shoved in the bag somewhere," Colleen said with a laugh. "But she loves softball. Anybody who knows Shania knows it. That's the first thing to come to mind."
"She's as tough as nails," added Kerry Rodd, who coached Paulson on the Bullets for several years growing up. "She plays the game hard but with a smile on her face."
Cloquet High School softball Coach Ron Tondryk agreed.
"That's just what kind of player she is, and it's been a pleasure to coach her," Tondryk said. "She's just one of those rare girls who is always on the field and loves the game."
"She always keeps us laughing in the dugout and is very welcoming," added Macor. "Shania has a passion for the game that I admire."