Hermantown, Cherry-Cotton advance to state softball tournamentHermantown shut out Cloquet for the 7AA title and Cherry-Cotton edged Carlton for the 7A crown
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
COHASSET — Hermantown coach Tom Bang has had his share of good memories at Portage Park over the years.
There were victories over Virginia’s Lindsey Predovich, the state’s all-time strikeout leader, and improbable home runs and game-winning bunts against her sister, Kristen, among the Hawks’ storied Section 7AA history.
But Thursday’s 4-0 championship victory over Cloquet might be the most gratifying since the Hawks did it with a mostly inexperienced, youthful lineup.
“All of them are satisfying, but this is especially satisfying for this group of girls because there were so many uncertainties as the season approached,” said Bang, who needed to replace seven senior starters. “Having lost an all-world pitcher in Megan Mullen and those other seniors — you look at the roster and see sophomores, ninth-graders and eighth-graders — but they certainly came a long way during the course of the year.”
Junior catcher Shawna Johnson homered to lead off a four-run sixth inning and sophomore pitcher Katie Thun tossed a five-hit shutout to lead the Hawks (16-6) to the 10th consecutive 7AA tournament title they’ve contested.
“It was supposed to be a rebuilding year and people didn’t know what was going to happen,” Johnson said. “But everyone got better and we gained confidence. I couldn’t be happier with this team.”
Sixth-ranked Hermantown advances to play No. 7 St. Paul Johnson at 1 p.m. Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn.
Johnson broke the scoreless tie by bombing a Denise Rodd pitch over the fence in left-center field. That was reminiscent of Ellen Folman, another Hawks catcher, who hit the home run against Virginia two years ago to the same part of the field for the game’s only run to keep Hermantown alive in what was ultimately another championship season.
“Something just connected, it was the most amazing thing ever,” said Johnson of her first career homer. “It was something we needed.”
Mackenzie Herzig followed with a two-run triple to score Lindsay Kolquist and Ashley Irwin and came home on Celine Francisco’s single for the final run.
“We had just the one bad inning,” Cloquet coach Ron Tondryk said. “We knew we had to keep everything to a minimum, and you have give credit to Hermantown.”
Tondryk had said all season that even though Hermantown was young, the section still went through the three-time state champs.
“That’s what we talked about from day one, ultimately you have to play Hermantown and beat them in order to go to state,” he said.
That happened during the regular season when the Lumberjacks (14-6) won 5-4. But this time they were unable to handle Thun, who struck out 10 and never allowed a runner past second base.
“She certainly had good command of her ball today; her pitches were moving well,” Bang said.
Johnson has seen that before many times.
“Katie’s a very strong pitcher,” she said. “I’ve been catching her since U-10s and every year she gets better and better.”