Cloquet baseball to face Hermantown in Section 7AA finals at 2 pm today
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
HERMANTOWN - The last time the Cloquet baseball team qualified for the state tournament, Rick Stowell was 15 years old.
“I think I was the third assistant to the water boy,” he laughed.
Stowell is now a seasoned head coach for the Lumberjacks. Today, they’re aiming to start on the road to their next trip back to state.
Before that can happen, Cloquet will have to get through Hermantown today in the Section 7AA title tilt scheduled at 2 p.m. at Wade Stadium. Because they lost to Hermantown Wednesday, a win will mean a second game against the Hawks, also scheduled for today.
If the ‘Jacks happen to defeat the Hawks twice, it’ll be their first trip back to the state tournament in 35 years.
“We didn’t even have a junior varsity team back then,” recalled Stowell, thinking back to 1975. “I wasn’t on the varsity team, but I remember practicing all the time.”
Coaching practice nowadays, Stowell has guided the ’Jacks to their third section title match in as many years. This is the year they hope to break the drought.
“This is the last shot for these seniors,” he said about his senior-dominated ball club, “and they know it. They just have to go out there and perform. If they do, we’ll be tough to beat.”
Wednesday in the Final Four, the ’Jacks (18-7) slipped to Hermantown 5-2 in eight innings – when the Hawks scored on a walk-off, three-run homer – before shutting out Proctor 4-0 in the nightcap to make their way back to the championship.
Because of the double-elimination tournament format, the ’Jacks will have to tip the Hawks twice this evening. To Cloquet’s head man, that isn’t a problem.
“I think we have some better stuff left,” said Stowell. “We’ll have to play well, but I think these boys are confident and ready for the challenge ahead of them.”
His son, senior Connor Stowell, agreed.
“Hopefully we can get the bats going early and show them how to do it,” he said. “We’ll be ready. We know we can win two games.”
After all, Hermantown is a team Cloquet should have knocked off Wednesday, according to fellow senior Corbin Morse.
“We were expecting to win that one,” he said. “We’ve beaten that team earlier this year. We just didn’t perform.”
Against the Hawks Wednesday, Cloquet stranded nearly a dozen base runners and failed to get down a single sacrifice bunt. That combination allowed Hermantown to claw back and earn the extra-inning victory.
“We had a ton of opportunities against them,” recalled Rick Stowell about the tough loss. “But I give Hermantown credit; they’re playing their best ball right now. And they capitalized and we just didn’t.”
Hermantown sophomore Brian LeBlanc broke the hearts of the ’Jacks late in the eighth inning when he smashed a 345-foot, walk-off homer to give Hermantown the 5-2 upset victory. The celebration at the plate that followed was the first time the Hawks had led all day.
The defeat was a difficult one to take for the Cloquet sluggers.
“We went out to eat afterwards and the whole place was quiet,” said Morse. “We just couldn’t get the hits at the right time. And we were pretty down in the dumps.”
Cloquet finished the contest with eight hits, as senior Tyler Tollerud and junior Joey Singpiel roped out a pair, while Tollerud and Morse scored the lone runs.
Thomas Rogers took the loss on the bump for the ’Jacks, as Cloquet’s senior ace was shelled for 10 hits in throwing the entire affair.
Yet, after watching Proctor advance with a 7-5 win against Mora, the ’Jacks dumped the Rails in the nightcap 4-0 behind a stellar pitching performance by sophomore hurler Adam Hanson.
“Adam pitched a heck of a game for us,” said Stowell afterwards.
His son couldn’t have agreed more.
“Adam gave us the win we needed,” Connor said near the dugout after the game. “Our season was on the line. He pitched well. We gave Hermantown the game earlier and definitely took care of things tonight.”
For the record, Hanson allowed just three hits in going the distance against the Rails, while he fanned seven and added a single at the plate.
Led by Hanson, Cloquet’s defense was also lights-out, never allowing a runner to third base until after the sun had already gone down. The ’Jacks even ended the game with a double play started by Stowell at second base.
“That was a web gem,” laughed Stowell afterwards.
Stowell added a pair of hits for the ’Jacks, including a key RBI-single in a three-run fourth inning that blew things open for Cloquet, eventually going on to the 4-0 win.
“We focus on two-strike hitting,” continued Stowell. “And that’s all we did tonight. We put the bat on the ball and found ways to get runs on the board. This was a big win that we needed.”
Now just two games from a trip to state, Cloquet can feel the excitement just around the corner.
“A motto of ours has been get to Target Field,” laughed Connor Stowell. “We’ve wanted this for the longest time. We want to get down there. This is our year.”
“These kids can come back,” added Rick Stowell. “We just have to come out and play. It’ll sure be fun to watch.”