They did it the hard way, but the Cloquet softball team is back in the Section 7AA finals after three dramatic wins on Tuesday in Cohasset.
The 'Jacks slugged their way through the losers' bracket thanks to three great performances by pitcher Chandler Beaupre and clutch hitting that was, in a word, improbable.
"What we did was a bit surprising," Coach Ron Tondryk admitted. "To win three games in a row was not in itself surprising but how we won them, yes, that's a bit surprising."
Cloquet started the day by hauling back a 5-2 deficit in the seventh inning to beat Greenway 7-5 thanks to a five-run inning when it mattered the most.
Beaupre helped her own cause with a two-run single and Kristi Anderson also knocked in a pair of runs in that frame.
"We got to that point (the seventh inning) in the first game and we knew it was our last chance to come back," Tondryk said. "In one regard the staff and the players knew we could do it but then we actually went out and did it."
The second game was just as dramatic, as the 'Jacks rallied for seven runs in the sixth inning to erase a 6-2 deficit and defeat Virginia 9-6.
In that game, Katrina Smith drove in four runs, and freshman Kassidy Steen hit a two-run homer in the sixth.
Tondryk said he actually forgot what inning it was for a time but it didn't matter to the team's hot bats.
"(In the seventh) someone said we had six outs left," Tondryk said. "But still, it's amazing. We did put on the pressure in those two games because it was do or die."
"We asked the players, 'What do you want to do? Is this something you can handle?'" Tondryk said. "They handled it."
In the final game of the day, Cloquet jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Mora -- and then had to hang on as Mora put two runners on base in the seventh inning before Beaupre got the final two outs to seal a 3-1 win.
"We never thought someone would do that to us after what we had done in the prior two games," Tondryk said. "We were confident in Chandler and the coaches trusted the girls. Now we're back in the championship round."
And in getting there, the defending section champion 'Jacks (12-5) have a rematch against Hermantown (19-3), the team they knocked out of last year's playoffs. The 'Jacks and Hawks will face off at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 30, in Cohasset. Cloquet will need to win twice to return to the state tournament.
"Hermantown is a team that will beat you if you make the big mistake," Tondryk said. "They have the target on their back every year, they are the team to beat, and last year we beat them. You have to take advantage of what they give you, play good defense and keep the errors to a minimum so you have a chance to win."
To win, Beaupre will have to match up with Hawks star pitcher Katie Thun, who fanned 13 batters in Hermantown's 6-0 semifinal win over Mora.
"They have a great pitcher," Tondryk said. "But Chandler is a battler and we've worked her all year. She wants the ball, and she's a girl who has meant a lot to this team. We're hoping we get back to State doing the same thing we did [Tuesday]. We will go up there thinking only about the first game, which we have to win first, and we'll take it one pitch at a time and do what we need to do to win. That's the only way we can approach it."