Proctor grabs Section 7AA baseball championshipProctor defeated Cloquet 9-2 to win the Section 7AA baseball championship on Thursday.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
When Proctor closer Ben Nelson blew a pitch past Cloquet batter Trent Moe for the final out in the Section 7AA championship on Thursday in Hermantown, Nelson instinctively threw his glove into the air as his teammates piled on him in front of home plate.
It’s a scene similar to last year, when Nelson was on the mound as Proctor closed it out against Hermantown.
Proctor got a gutsy effort at the mound, at the plate and in the field to beat Cloquet 9-2 and advance to its second straight Class AA state tournament and third overall.
Proctor (17-6) advances to play the Section 4 champion in the Class AA quarterfinals at 3 p.m. Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud, Minn. Cloquet finished 18-7.
Senior starter Jake Lewis earned the victory despite walking six Cloquet batters. The Wisconsin-Superior recruit allowed just four hits and struck out seven in six innings.
“This is always a great feeling,” Lewis said. “We’re hoping to go down and put on a good show. We just have to play good defense, get our bats going and hope the pitching is there. My accuracy wasn’t there (Thursday), but I just had to battle and let our defense carry me.”
Kyle Wojtysiak, a 2005 Proctor graduate who played college baseball at St. Scholastica, is in his third year coaching the Rails.
Proctor is fundamentally sound and got great fielding on Thursday from the likes of junior second baseman Jimmy Merling, but Wojtysiak downplayed any impact he has had on the program.
“We put a game plan down on paper, but the players are the ones who actually have to go out and do it,” Wojtysiak said. “This is tribute to them. Take a guy like Jimmy Merling. He’s an unbelievable athlete and has shown that since he was freshman. We’ve come to expect good things out of guys like him.”
Merling and Paul Hegstrom each had two hits and two runs, while Ian Scherber had a two-run home run and three RBIs to lead the Rails.
Derek Anderson and Adam Hanson had two hits apiece to lead the Lumberjacks. Cloquet was hoping for its fourth state tournament berth and second in the past three years but couldn’t overcome five errors and nine stranded base runners.
“We have eight seniors, and I’m proud of them,” said an emotional Cloquet coach Rick Norrgard. “We played just a fabulous game on Tuesday against Hermantown, playing error-free baseball, but we just couldn’t get it going this time around. Proctor made some beautiful plays in the field and deserved to win this game. Hats off to them.”
Cloquet also suffered a setback when starting pitcher Brandon Conklin suffered a hip injury while attempting to beat out a grounder in the top of the second inning and was out for the rest of the game. Conklin was also one of the Lumberjacks top hitters batting out of the No. 4 spot in the lineup.
“You try to plan for different scenarios that pop up in a game, but you can’t plan for that,” Norrgard said.
Proctor went 1-2 at the state tournament last year but could do better this time if Lewis and Nelson can lead the way on the mound.
Lewis logged a season-high 125 pitches on Thursday, so he had to yield to Nelson to relieve him in the seventh inning.
“That’s OK. I was getting a little tired, and I knew Ben could come in and shut the door,” Lewis said. “He did the job, just like I knew he would.”
So Nelson got to be the center of the celebration for a second straight year despite logging just one inning on Thursday after earning the pitching win on Tuesday over Hermantown.
Perhaps Nelson’s hardest throw on Thursday was with his glove, which soared at least 30 feet into the air.
“I still don’t think it’s come down,” Nelson said.
Neither have the Rails.
Proctor 9, Cloquet 2
WP: Jake Lewis 6IP, 4H, 2R, 6BB, 7K. LP: Adam Hanson 6IP, 8H, 8R, 3BB, 2K. P: Jimmy Merling 2x4, 2R; Jesse Scanlon 2x3; Paul Hegstrom 2x3, 2R; Ian Scherber 2R-HR, 3RBIs; Ryan McCarthy 2RBIs. C: Derek Anderson 2x3; Hanson 2x4, 2RBIs.