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Kelley’s Cloquet club claims local tourney title

Cloquet USG 12-and-Under youth softball players include: (front row, from left) Raeann Barney, Vanna Kelley, Morgan Van Reese, Brenna McClarey, (middle row) Coach Merle Kelley, Lucy Sinkkonen, Amanda Paul, Miranda Kelley, Bella Anderson, (back row) Coach Jason Eckenberg, Lexi Perry, Coach Jeff Woollett, Molly Fineday, Shelby Peil and Coach Randy Anderson. Contributed Photo

CLOQUET—Last weekend, Merle Kelley hosted the first-ever Cloquet 12-and-Under mid-August youth softball tournament, but that wasn’t the only first.

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Kelley’s U-12 Cloquet USG squad took first place after beating Bloomington 3-2 in the one-day event’s championship game last Saturday at Braun Park in Cloquet.

Kelley’s club, which won four of its five games during the near 12-hour day of competition, never trailed against Bloomington in the final, avenging a 5-0 loss to the Twin Cities-based team during pool play earlier in the day.

“They are very easy kids to coach — just a really great group of girls,” said Kelley of his 11 players. “We practiced a little, but they played well for taking a couple of weeks off.”

Kelley said the idea for the six-team tournament, featuring the third-place Cloquet Crushers, Duluth Gators, Proctor and Esko, came from his players. Beside the day’s 13 games, trophies and medals were awarded to teams, while Cloquet’s Kiana Bender won the home run derby and fastest player contests.

Kelley added he’d “absolutely” like to have the event next year, noting it worked well.

“Maybe it’ll turn into two days,” he said.