Lumberjacks up and running
CLOQUET—Cloquet’s white, pristine baseball uniforms didn’t stay that way for long during the team’s home debut Friday.
Junior speedsters Gavin Takkunen and Hunter Roberts were covered from head to toe in Ed Mettner Field dirt after helping lead the Lumberjacks to a 5-2 victory over Hibbing.
“I love being dirty,” said Takkunen, the leadoff hitter.
Hitting, pitching and defense are key components to the game, but the Lumberjacks are looking at speed to be vital.
As the fast Takkunen — also a swift guard on the basketball team — bats first, Roberts follows just as quickly. Not to be overdone, Austin Gotchnik — the football team’s starting running back — hits in the ninth and final batting position, creating a seemingly triple leadoff combination of effective base running, scoring ability and, of course, hustle.
In one inning last week, Gotchnik flew across home plate like a blur — barely slowing his rapid pace all the way to the dugout — while Takkunen later advanced hard into third base, only to be followed by Roberts sliding into second.
“Tonight we played all three in the outfield,” said Cloquet Coach Rick Norrgard of Takkunen in centerfield Monday at Greenway, sandwiched by Gotchnik in left and Roberts in right. Cloquet is now winners of three straight after Tuesday’s 6-5 rally over Duluth Denfeld.
Roberts, who tried tennis last spring, was quick to come back to baseball, noting he wasn’t as efficient with a racquet.
“It wasn’t for me,” Roberts said. “It wasn’t my best.”
The trio of speed demons has been best at their roles of working counts, getting on base and crossing home behind meaty power hitters like Brandon Conklin and Jeff Sarkela.
“We bunch them together to get them on and get them in,” said Norrgard, who admitted he was nowhere near that fast when he played. “We have speed, but still have to be smart.”
If Cloquet (3-2) continues playing smart, it will likely start with their trio of cleat-burning, dirt-wearing players such as Gotchnik — thought to be the fastest.
“It’s pretty close,” admitted Gotchnik, who ran track last year because of an injured shoulder. “We work our speed to our advantage. It’s pretty much get on base and get around.”
Usually full of dirt once making the diamond-long trip.
“I’d say that’s fun,” said Roberts, who gave his uniform to his teammate’s mother, Mary Conklin, after Monday’s game.
“I slid head first twice and scored at home,” Roberts continued. “She made sure I gave her my jersey to wash it.”
Like the Bulldogs and Wrens, the Polar League remained busy with conference action Tuesday, as Barnum bettered rival Moose Lake-Willow River 7-1 in Barnum.
The Bombers (2-0), which with their 11-1 win over league neighbor Carlton on Monday as well, have now outscored their pair of competitors 18-2 in just 13 innings.
That’s saying something for a team that has only been outside less than a handful of times and even resorted to indoor co-ed floor hockey and kickball games to remain interested.
“It’s been a good start,” said Barnum Coach Tony Bender following Tuesday’s victory. “Hopefully now the weather will give us some breaks.”
Whether or not ML-WR (3-3) will play a home game this spring is still questionable, as the Moose Lake field’s new baseline sod is still too soft to play on.
When asked if a season of bus trips was in store for the Rebels, senior third baseman/pitcher Dylan Lovegreen was quick to respond.
“I’d rather have some home games,” Lovegreen said, “but I like being on the bus with the guys.”
Esko was all about buses last baseball season, when they were still dealing with the flood of 2012 and new athletic complex construction, but that’s not the case anymore.
The Eskomos (6-2) earned a Tuesday doubleheader sweep of Duluth Marshall 6-2 and Cook County 9-0 in as a part of Esko's first home opener in two seasons.
“I kind of forgot how use the chalker and the rake,” quipped Eskomos Coach Ben Haugen. “The field still has a ways to go — we have no dugouts and no place for the fans — but the kids were excited to play there.”
Esko played in South Ridge’s first-ever home game in Culver Monday, where the Panthers (2-1) lost 12-7.
Despite defeat, South Ridge Athletic Director and baseball co-coach Tony DeLeon said it was nice to have their own place at last.
“It’s still soft in some areas, but it’s definitely playable,” said DeLeon of the Panthers’ park. “We’re just happy we’re finally letting our seniors play at home.”