Minnesota Blast are young, but they learn fastThe Blast started their season 11-5-1, made up mostly of players from the Cloquet junior varsity team. But they aren’t playing like junior varsity players.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
“We aren’t a hand-picked team.”
That’s actually good news for Cloquet’s U-16 girls softball team, the Minnesota Blast. Playing in the Lake Superior Fastpitch League, Coach Tyler Korby’s 11 players are all from Cloquet and all getting plenty of playing time.
The Blast started their season 11-5-1, made up mostly of players from Korby’s Cloquet junior varsity team. They aren’t playing like junior varsity players.
“They are getting a lot better,” said Korby, who is assisted by his dad, Joel, and Mike McMillen. “They’ve come a long way in just a couple of short years.”
In fact, the team is unusually young, even for the U-16 level. Seven of the team’s 11 rostered players are actually eligible to play in the U-14 classification.
“The kids are getting better playing against very good competition,” Korby said.
Key games for the team this season were a 2-1 tournament loss against Duluth all-state pitcher Nikki Lagergren and a 6-0 loss against Cherry’s U-16 team, which featured eight players from the town’s Class A state runner-up team.
“That game was 1-0 in the fourth inning,” Korby said. “Our girls played well. About two-thirds of the opposition we play is on someone’s varsity squad.”
Only one player on the Blast, pitcher Chandler Beaupre, had varsity experience this spring. Beaupre has pitched in 11 of the team’s 17 games to date, with Kaylee McMillen and Kristi Anderson handling the rest.
Incoming sophomore Breanne Baker, who led Korby’s Cloquet junior varsity in hitting this spring, is a team leader along with incoming freshman catcher Jade Benko. Third baseman Averi Handcock recently moved to the area from Texas and has played well.
Other team members include infielder Katrina Smith and outfielders Sammy Zeadow, Devan Masessa, Michaela Sunnarborg and Abbey Wangen.
The Blast are 4-0 in league play, which features doubleheaders on Monday and Wednesday. The team has also played in tournaments in Superior and Grand Rapids.
“We’re playing 40-45 games this season,” Korby said. “We’ll have ASA national qualifying tournaments in Duluth and Eagan in July and will play a state tournament qualifier in Sauk Rapids late in July.”
The team plays an aggressive style.
“We play defense and hit the ball,” Korby said. “We make other teams make plays to beat us. We preach getting in game situations and improving. The players are only going to get better by playing a lot of ball. They work hard and I’ve been impressed.”
Many of the Blast players will eventually fill the school’s varsity roster.
“It’s about being competitive at the level we’re supposed to, so these kids can play for Ron [Tondryk] and his varsity,” Korby said. “I’ve learned a lot from Ron and can’t give him enough credit for helping me along and trusting me to lead kids to his varsity program. They play hard, and I’m happy and proud to coach them.”