Softball Preview....Pitching pivotal in playoffs
Throughout a normal school day, it's common to see Cloquet softball pitcher Chandler Beaupre exercising her right wrist.
"I do them every class," said Beaupre of her hourly wrist movements. "I usually don't even realize when I'm doing them."
What many have realized is that Beaupre is one of the most effective pitchers around, as the hard-throwing junior leads the Lumberjacks into this week's Section 7AA softball playoffs.
Beaupre was a centerpiece to Cloquet's dethroning of former 10-time section champion Hermantown last spring, as the Lumberjacks went on to a school-best third-place finish at State.
Now back even stronger, Beaupre has thrown 67 of 68 innings, recorded 57 strikeouts and most of all, given the Lumberjacks (7-4) the confidence every team needs in the circle come late May.
"Hopefully we can get some great games out of her again and go on a good run like we did last year," said fourth-year Cloquet Coach Ron Tondryk. "It all comes down to pitching."
Beaupre has pitched to all seven of Cloquet's wins and the No. 2 seed in the sub-section. She's aided by fellow captain catcher Jade Benko and centerfielder Sammy Zeadow, while second baseman Breanne Baker and shortstop Katrina Smith are the team's top hitters, and freshman Kassidy Steen has the only homerun.
Hermantown and Mora are the top seeds, while Greenway, Virginia and Esko are threats, yet Beaupre likes her team most.
"I think we have a big target on our backs," said Beaupre, who, along with her teammates, faces Crosby-Ironton in Thursday morning's playoff opener at Cloquet's Braun Park. The game had been postponed twice this week due to wet fields. "We have a good offense and a good defense. I think we're going to surprise some people."
Tondryk said pitching and defense are important, but noted a team effort will be needed if his team wants to repeat.
"Last year was fun -- they definitely want to taste that again," Tondryk said of their state tournament appearance. "I've noticed this past week the girls have had a quiet confidence about themselves. If we pitch well, play good defense and get timely hitting, we will have a chance."
The Eskomos (9-5) have a chance to advance if they play defense behind their seasoned pitcher, junior Abbey Saralampi.
Like Beaupre, the right-handed Saralampi enjoys her curveball most and works on her techniques year-round. Esko Coach Brad Emanuel said Saralampi has thrown 58 innings and recorded seven wins, as backup hurler Kiana Jablonski has the other pair of wins.
Saralampi faces lower-seeded Two Harbors Thursday at Braun Park, but noted on Tuesday evening that Esko's defense will be the biggest factor in their path forward through the 15-team tournament.
"I've been pitching since I was 10 or 12; whenever it was, I was really young," said Saralampi, whose older sister, Kelsey, is a pitcher at Bemidji State University. "Sometimes, though, I just think about our defense and getting a ground ball hit to them."
Although Emanuel said his team -- which played all road games due to construction at the field on Canosia Road -- has had some trouble defensively, he noted it'll be vital this week and next.
"Abbey will strike out five or six batters per game and Kiana three or four -- but that still leaves 15 or 16 outs with your defense," Emanuel said. "You have to throw strikes to play defense, but when the ball is put in play, you have to make the plays."
Playing behind pitcher Chloe Maloney, Moose Lake-Willow River (8-3) has been respectable. The Rebels rolled by Pine City 16-2 Tuesday in the opening round of Section 7AA playoffs, and will face Hermantown at noon Thursday at Braun Park.
Cromwell-Wright (0-13) finished its season winless and outscored 213-37, while a young South Ridge (6-4) team begins its postseason schedule Thursday at Braun Park, as well.
Barnum (6-5), meanwhile, traveled to Rush City for a Section 7A opening round game with Hinckley-Finlayson Tuesday that was eventually postponed to Thursday at 3:30 p.m. Pitcher Lauren Hultgren is the team's ace.
Speaking of aces, Carlton sophomore Grace Macor has thrown all 84 innings -- striking out 118 batters -- for the Bulldogs (11-2) who entered the Section 7A playoffs Wednesday against Cook County as this edition of the Pine Journal went to press. Carlton, losers to eventual Class A champion Cherry last season, is again favored with the Tigers this spring. Brooke Camps' bat leads the Bulldogs, while Macor, a 6-foot righty, dominates with her favorite drop ball despite tiredness.
"One day I pitched three games in a day -- 10 games in a week," said Macor, who practices with her father, Patrick, in the Carlton gymnasium during the winter, as well. "My arm was dead."
"She's been quite the workhorse for us," said first-year Carlton Coach Callie Langdon. "She's thrown every inning. If you have a good pitcher and play solid defense, you can go pretty far."