Experience pays off for Cloquet softball team
In a spring where teams are clawing and scratching for every advantage they can find, the Cloquet softball team has one few other teams can claim.
The ’Jacks graduated no seniors at all from last year’s team, meaning the team has gelled almost instantly. That shows in early results, with the team 5-0 after Monday night’s 12-0 win at Eveleth-Gilbert.
One of the team’s seniors, tri-captain Chandler Beaupre, earned her fourth win in four starts by pitching a three-hit shutout in a game that went the full seven innings despite the 12-run advantage.
“We were ahead 9-0 in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and nobody out and we couldn’t get that 10th run across,” Coach Ron Tondryk said. “But it was our best game of the season.”
“We really drove the ball against the wind, especially to left field,” he added. “The players came to the plate with a plan, stuck to it, and made it work.”
Breanne Baker had three hits in five trips to the plate and scored a run for Cloquet, with the other tri-captain, junior Jade Benko and senior centerfielder Sammy Zeadow also coming through with a pair of hits each. Katrina Smith, Mikayla Langenbrunner, Beaupre and Carly Hiti also had two hits each.
The team stands at 5-0 after running the table at a tournament in Pine City over the weekend and also defeating Hibbing in the team’s first game of the year. Three scrimmages in LaCrosse before the season started also helped the ’Jacks find their batting and fielding eyes.
“We decided to get into indoor places like Rosemount in March because of the weather and get ahead of the game,” Tondryk said. “We are trying to get games in now and we’re fighting the weather like everyone else.”
Conditions weren’t ideal at Pine City but the team still went 3-0 on Saturday.
In their first game, Cloquet beat the host team 7-1 behind a complete game from Kaylee McMillen, who struck out eight and allowed three hits. Kassidy Steen had three hits in four trips while Langenbrunner drove in three runs with two hits and Zeadow went 2-for-4.
Next up was Proctor, and the ’Jacks beat their LSC competitor 11-7 in a game where the defense wasn’t as good as it could have been. Beaupre went the distance, scattering nine hits and allowing five walks.
“We struggled against them,” Tondryk said. “We let some balls drop and defensively we missed some popups. Those are balls we need to catch. That kept [Proctor] in the game and it was one we should have taken care of that game earlier. I’m glad we won, though.”
Langenbrunner continued to swing a hot bat, going 3-for-3 with three runs scored while Benko doubled and hit the first fence-clearing home run of her career. Beaupre had two hits and scored three times while Abbey Wangen scored four runs.
In the playoff round, Cloquet dismissed Silver Bay 11-0 in five innings, behind a three-hitter from Beaupre, who struck out six. Langenbrunner finished a 7-for-8 day at the plate with two more hits and three runs, while Zeadow was 3-for-3 with two runs scored. Steen had two hits and two runs as well, while Devan Masessa had a double and stole a base.
With the season shortened once again due to weather, Tondryk is happy to have a veteran team with everyone back.
“There is a continuity between the players and the coaches,” he said. “We’re trying to establish the same roles and routines for everyone. The girls get comfortable in their roles and all they have to do is execute.
The fact that everyone is back on the varsity means the young junior varsity team, which is also undefeated at 7-0, has time to develop.
“We don’t have big egos on our team and we’re trying to give the young JV kids some varsity experience and take the pressure off them because they know they don’t have to step right in,” Tondryk said. “The attitudes are great. There’s no expectations on those young kids.”
The team has two additional games scheduled this week, weather permitting (Tuesday’s game at Ashland was postponed): Wednesday at Duluth Marshall and a home game Thursday against Hermantown.
That means less practice time — but again, with a veteran team, that isn’t as big an issue as it could be.
“Last year we had a young team and we only had two or three practices in the whole month of May,” Tondryk said. “If you make mistakes, you are supposed to be able to practice them out the next day. We have to do a lot of chalk talk on the bus because we don’t have many practices between games.”