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'Jacks fall to Hawks in championship

Cloquet softball Coach Ron Tondryk admitted that his 'Jacks would need to play a virtually perfect game to defeat Hermantown in the Section 7AA softball finals.

Last Thursday in Cohasset, the 'Jacks did just that for five and a half innings before the Hawks (20-3) erupted for seven runs in the sixth inning to defeat Cloquet (12-6) 8-1, gaining revenge for last season's playoff defeat by the purple.

"[Hermantown was] a good team," Tondryk said. "When you look back at it, we felt we could've had a shot to beat them. We had them close for five and a half innings but we let it slip away. We definitely had a chance to beat them but it didn't work out."

The key to the game was a three-run homer by Hawks pitcher Katie Thun, who was walked intentionally three times by the 'Jacks prior to her big hit.

The 'Jacks picked up eight hits off Thun and scored the first run of the game in the fourth inning on consecutive hits by Kristi Anderson, Sammy Zeadow and Jade Benko.

The Hawks tied the game, though, and with the score 3-1 in the sixth, the 'Jacks finally pitched to Thun, who made them pay for it. Tondryk said Thun hit a pitch that was supposed to be out of the strike zone for the three-run homer.

Chandler Beaupre took the loss for Cloquet, going the distance and allowing 11 hits while walking six. Thun scattered eight hits on the mound for Hermantown, while striking out eight and walking no one.

Five of the hits went to Zeadow (three) and Benko (two).

But the best news of all for the 'Jacks -- reaching the section final game and getting a chance to defend the section championship with a team containing no seniors.

"We were confident that we had the girls in the spots to replace the players we lost last year," Tondryk said. "I personally felt we belonged [at the championship game], and had a chance to get back to State."

Tondryk also noted that teams who have to "learn how to win" couldn't have done better than his team did on the preceding Tuesday, rallying from 5-2 and 6-2 deficits to win playoff games.

"They never gave up, but that's huge for next year because we get everyone back," he said. "We can refer back to these two huge wins and these kids won't give up. Those games taught me a lot with these girls, that I'm not going to give up and neither are they. If something doesn't go our way and we get behind, these girls now are going to battle all seven innings and give us a chance to win a game in the future. That is huge for down the road."

The slow start to spring and a highly compressed schedule makes summer ball more important than ever for the players to continue to develop.

"One of those things we talked about was that we didn't get to accomplish things in what passed for 'spring training' and a shortened season where you play games every day," Tondryk said. "We needed to practice and we didn't get a chance. That's not making excuses but that is part of coaching high school sports. We have to get into position where we are practicing what we need to work on.

"Some of these kids have played 40-50-60 game schedules in the summer," Tondryk added. "We need to play and keep playing. We need to step it up and play those games so we won't be overmatched down the road and we'll have the experience to go further."

Tondryk also said he was proud of his team for advancing so far with so little varsity experience.

"I am very proud of them," he said. "It is disappointing because as a coach I want everything now. Nobody expected us to get back to the section finals but us. We accomplished the things we wanted this year but our ultimate goal is to get back to State. I'm very pleased with this group of girls, it's one of the best I've had."