Having pitched 72 strikeouts in just seven softball games, Carlton’s Grace Macor has made her living within the circle.
But it’s another circle that she and her teammates still have that best indicates the Bulldogs’ early-season success.
At 7-0, Carlton is the last remaining team in the area without a loss. That is due in part to a team-wide model of consistency both on offense and defense, according to second-year Coach Callie Langdon.
“It’s been a good combination of everything,” Langdon said following Tuesday’s practice. “A lot of the girls are contributing — and it’s a different girl every night. We’re feeling good. We’re looking solid.”
That might be an understatement. The unbeaten Bulldogs have buried their competition thus far, outscoring their opponents 76-11 in their opening seven contests, winning more than half by at least a dozen runs or more.
“Our goal was to improve on offense,” said Macor, admitting even she has taken time from her pitching to better her hitting approach. “We knew that we needed some bats.”
The Bulldogs’ bats were in full force last Friday at Chub Lake Park in Carlton, when they blitzed past Polar League visitor Cromwell-Wright 15-1 by mercy rule in five innings.
Macor, a 6-foot junior right-hander who has pitched every inning to good friend and sophomore catcher Hannah Benson, had 10 strikeouts against the Cardinals, while Benson, Myranda Papesh and Brianna Walton all had multiple hits.
Mix in hitters like Macy Belich and Jessica Stanslaski — all six of whom were on the Bulldogs’ state volleyball team last fall — and Carlton could have the poise to return to the Section 7A softball championship in the upcoming weeks.
The Bulldogs lost the finals in 2011 and 2012 to Cherry.
“We talk about Cherry a lot,” said Langdon of the perennial power Tigers, Class A’s state champions in 2012 and team to beat again. “They’re always on the radar.”
Meanwhile, Cromwell-Wright hasn’t been on anyone’s radar for years, until the Cardinals recently beat Floodwood.
Their 3-2 comeback home victory Monday against their Polar League rivals — won on by a walk-off triple by eighth-grader Amber Lehti — snapped a four-year, 46-game losing streak dating back to a May 2010 win over McGregor.
Second-year Coach Terry Sawdey is proud of his Cardinals (1-7), a program of a mere 11 players with no seniors.
“They never quit fighting, never gave up,” Sawdey said.
“It was a big deal,” added junior and Monday’s winning pitcher Kaylan Risacher, a seventh-grader on the 2010 team. “For some of the girls, it was the first time they’ve ever won.”
Winning hasn’t been a problem for Cloquet (6-1), as the Lumberjacks had been victorious in their first half a dozen games before falling to Superior 12-7 Tuesday at Braun Park in Cloquet.
For the Lumberjacks, who have outscored their opponents 72-16 so far, Tuesday was just their third time on their home field this spring, as Monday's 7-1 win over visiting Virginia was their home debut.
“[Teammate Sammy] Zeadow said it was like our first home game and our last home game,” said junior catcher Jade Benko of a shortened season in which Cloquet is currently scheduled just one more day — next Tuesday — on its own field.
Speaking of fields, Esko hosted their first home game since the summer flood of 2012, when the Eskomos (5-3) eased past Polar League foe Cook County 15-0 Tuesday in five innings.
The shortened game, a combined pitching victory for seniors Abbey Saralampi and Kiana Jablonski, was a long time coming for the school.
“I have eight seniors who hadn’t had a home game in two years,” said Esko Coach Brad Emanuel, who along with assistants and volunteers, helped prepare the field for over 10 hours Sunday and Tuesday. “It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.”
Emanuel said one of the dugouts is still without a roof, but it’s better than the situation in Barnum, where the Bombers (1-3) have yet to play a home contest at all.
Senior pitcher Lauren Hultgren, who has tossed all four games including Tuesday’s 4-2 loss at Moose Lake-Willow River (4-1), said Barnum will host South Ridge (1-2) this Thursday.
“I hope so,” she said.