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Despite youth, Blast score upset at State

Minnesota Blast coach Kerry Rodd (right) talks to the team between innings of a softball game this summer. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 4
Cloquet's Makayla Langenbrunner hits during a Minnesota Blast softball game in the USSSA softball tournament at Braun Park. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 4
Cloquet's Kaylee Mcmillen hits for the Minnesota Blast softball team in the USSSA softball tournament at Braun Park. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal3 / 4
Cloquet's Breanne Baker hits for the Minnesota Blast this summer. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal4 / 4

In softball, experience usually counts for quite a lot. That's why when a young team wins, it's pretty sweet.

The U-18 Minnesota Blast, a team made up predominantly of players from next season's Cloquet High School varsity, are a happy bunch this week after taking second place in the Minnesota Metro Fast Pitch League (MMFL) state tournament last weekend.

"We scored some major upsets," Coach Kerry Rodd said. "The team is made up of the entire Cloquet varsity with one player from Carlton and one from Cromwell. None of them are out of school, graduated from school or are in college, so that makes this a pretty impressive feat."

Rules allow for players who have turned 19 after Jan. 1 of a given year to play U-18s, which makes the success of the Blast something to celebrate.

"A lot of the teams we played had kids who graduated this year or players who graduated last year and have a year of college ball," Rodd said. "So we are very happy."

In every game the Blast won, they came from behind. Rodd was happy with that too.

"Our goal was to push these kids and get them in games where they have to deal with pressure," Rodd said. "The biggest thing this summer wasn't the physical part, but how the players reacted under pressure."

The team's opening game was a 4-3 come-from-behind win over the Moorhead Crush. Chandler Beaupre was the winning pitcher, and had two hits and two RBIs to help her own cause.

The Minnesota Chaos was next and the Blast won 6-5 in extra innings, again coming from behind. The Blast rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the seventh to tie the game and scored twice in the extra inning for the win. Kaylee McMillen started on the mound and worked five innings before Beaupre finished, with Devan Masessa's two-run single winning the contest. Beaupre, Breanne Baker and Abby Wangen all had two hits each.

Beaupre pitched again against the Minnesota XPlosion in the last game of the day, in a 5-3 win that saw the team erase a 3-0 deficit.

The next day, the Blast lost 8-0 to the Duluth Thunder, a more experienced team, but came back three different times to beat the Minnesota Twisters 10-9 in the losers' bracket. Jade Benko was 3-for-3 in the game, and scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Baker.

The championship game was a rematch with the Thunder, and the Blast fell 8-6 in a game that featured six different lead changes. Beaupre had three hits, with Baker and Wangen adding two more each.

"I'm not surprised at what they have done," Rodd said. "[Cloquet varsity coach] Ron Tondryk has done a great job with these kids. They are very gifted athletes who have to fine-tune things and get more playing time."

Rodd added that injuries and players playing out of position helped the team grow.

"The turnaround in the last two weeks was remarkable," Rodd said. "We got everyone healthy and in their right positions so they were comfortable, and it has taken off."

The team now plays in the ASA Northern Nationals in Rochester July 31 to Aug. 2.

"We might be a bit smaller physically and less mature as far as number of games played," Rodd said, "but when a team that has two players who are 15 years old gives a team with 19-year old college players all it wants, that's great because the college kids will have the advantage every time."

"For our kids to be competing at this level without any older kids and their advantages speaks volumes about how hard they have worked, how they are trying to get better and how much they want this thing," Rodd said. "Ron [Tondryk] has worked his tail off with these kids and it shows."