SOFTBALL PREVIEW: Cloquet centered by varsity veterans
CLOQUET—Entering her fifth week of softball practice inside the Cloquet High School Monday evening, Chandler Beaupre unexpectedly skinned her left leg while trying to move an already more-than-used pitching machine.
That machine — a weathered piece of equipment hanging on by a loose leg — has been battered around by Beaupre and her teammates, as the Lumberjacks have been stuck inside eagerly awaiting the start of their softball season.
Cloquet was supposed to start its season last Friday in La Crosse, Wis. However, the game was cancelled due to a winter storm that closed school that day, so the team has continued its battle with winter weather into spring and repeated bouts with impatience.
“I think we all have field fever,” said Beaupre, a hard-throwing right-handed senior pitcher. “We just want to play.”
The Lumberjacks could perhaps play as early as Friday against Greenway in Grand Rapids, which has blown the snow off their fields according to Cloquet Coach Ron Tondryk.
That could be the start of something special. Tondryk, now in his fifth season, welcomes back all 11 players from his 12-6 team that reached the Section 7AA championship a year ago and is confident in competing with whomever they face.
“We know we can beat anyone — we definitely have the ability — but we just have to stay focused,” said Beaupre, a three-year starter and returning captain along with fellow senior centerfielder Sammy Zeadow and junior catcher Jade Benko.
Along with their captains, senior infielders Katrina Smith, Breanne Baker, Kristi Anderson and outfielder Devan Masessa are all seasoned, while juniors Abbey Wangen and Kaylee McMillen make for even more depth on top of underclassmen infielders Makayla Langenbrunner and 6-foot-1 Kassidy Steen, who has over-the-fence power at the plate.
“We’re looking good,” said Wangen, a left fielder, late Monday night after practice. “Everyone is on the same page.”
Hoping to add a page to their state tournament history, the Lumberjacks are looking to join previous teams from 2002 and 2012 — nearly all of the current players were part of the 2012 team.
“These girls got a chance to get a taste of that and want to get back to Mankato,” Tondryk said of the state tournament. “But we don’t get too excited about it because we know we still have to pitch, field, get outs and get hits. Our goal is to win that first pitch of that first inning in that first game.”
If Friday is a go, Beaupre said her leg will be ready.
“We want to lace up our cleats and get on dirt,” she said.
The dirt will soon be ready in Willow River, as the Moose Lake-Willow River field was recently plowed, according to second-year Rebels Coach Kelly Goeb Monday evening.
Goeb’s husband, Shawn Bode, spent Saturday on his tractor for 10-plus hours, while Bill Grutowski used an excavator earlier to help make the field perhaps playable by Friday afternoon.
“We had a couple shoveling parties, too,” said Goeb, whose team is keyed by senior veteran power hitter Andrea Youngberg. “We got in the parking lot today — but we’d like to get going.”
Esko got its season going late due to state boys and girls basketball tournaments, but that won’t hinder a team that returns eight of nine starters from a season ago, including a senior 1-2 punch in pitcher Abbey Saralampi and catcher Morgan Pera.
“I think we’ll go far,” Pera said Monday night after another indoor practice. “But the gym is getting smaller and smaller.”
“The walls are coming down, but we’re doing our best to keep it fresh,” added 12th-year Coach Brad Emanuel, explaining that his team hasn’t hit off a pitching machine yet, but rather works live pitching drills instead. “I must have thrown 300 balls today.”
In small schools, Lauren Hultgren will again throw for Barnum and Kaylan Risacher in Cromwell-Wright, plus South Ridge is set to open their new field in Culver, once it’s ready.
Carlton players are getting ready for the season inside the Four Seasons Complex, as they return sophomore catcher Hannah Benson and junior pitcher Grace Macor. Last year Macor got sick and missed the playoffs.
“Hopefully I don’t get the stomach flu again,” she said.