Minnesota Xplosion bring the boomThe very competitive Xplosion softball squad boasts girls from Cloquet, Carlton, Floodwood, Two Harbors, International Falls, Virginia and Maple, Wis. They play Thursday night in a doubleheader at Wade Stadium. Saturday and Sunday they’ll take part in Duluth’s Lake Superior Classic at the Wheeler Complex.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
For 37 years, Steve Jezierski has pounded ground balls, smacked flies and preached to his lengthy list of competitive baseball teams. Not much has changed this summer, except the sport.
For the first time, he’s trying fastpitch softball.
Coaching the Minnesota Xplosion with the help of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College softball coach Kerry Rodd, Cloquet varsity coach Ron Tondryk and knowledgeable assistant Joel Korby, Jezierski said the transition has been pretty simple.
“With those guys helping me, all I really do is put a lineup down and say a few words before and after the ball game,” Jezierski said, laughing. “It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Joking aside, Jezierski – who assists Rodd during the spring with the FDLTCC program – has been hard at work. With longtime Xplosion coach and founder Ron Tondryk stepping aside to help develop kids at the younger levels, Jezierski has recruited and pieced together arguably the best U-18 fastpitch team in the Northland this summer.
Competitiveness was the goal from the start.
“We want to be competitive,” Jezierski said. “That’s the way Ron has done it over the years and that’s how we wanted to do things again.”
In order to do that, the respected Xplosion – which have competed at the national level over the years – landed some of the area’s top ball players. The squad boasts girls from Cloquet, Carlton, Floodwood, Two Harbors, International Falls, Virginia and Maple, Wis.
“The core of our team is from the Cloquet program,” said Jezierski, noting that half his squad’s 14 players are from town. “But we’ve added in some real nice pieces. Many of them are their best players from their high school teams. They’re a good group.”
Cloquet players include recent graduates Makenzie Korby and Denise Rodd, and next year’s returnees Lizz Jezierski (Steve’s daughter), Shania Paulson, Kelly Carlson, Alyssa Michaelson and Kayla Masessa.
Joining those seven are Floodwood’s Molly Johnsen and Brea Vance, as well as Vicky Fossland of Virginia, Sydney Gordon of International Falls, Megan Nelson of Carlton, Sasha Fjeran of Two Harbors and Kelcee Janigo from Maple.
“It’s tough putting a lineup together,” said Jezierski, “but what really makes it easy is they’re all really good kids. It’s nice to look over and see them all laughing together and enjoying things. They’re a great bunch.”
Judging by early results, they obviously know how to compete at the top level. The Xplosion are off to a 6-2 start, with their only two losses to the elite Rosemount Irish and Minnesota Sting at last weekend’s Rosemount College Showcase Tournament.
In Rosemount, the Xplosion also defeated the Minnesota Snocatz and knocked off the prestigious Iowa Pride in the final
“That win over Iowa is one we’re pretty proud of,” Jezierski said. “We played well down there and saw some pretty good teams. Really, when you look at it, there are some pretty good softball players anywhere you look.”
One of many for the Xplosion will be top hurler Johnsen.
“She’s as good as anyone we saw down there last weekend,” Jezierski said of Floodwood’s ace. “She’s strong, competitive and doesn’t show any emotion. She goes to work and does her job.”
Behind Johnsen, Rodd will provide a sure hand as the squad’s No. 2 pitcher, while Lizz Jezierski and Fjeran will do the catching.
Paulson, Gordon, Carlson and Michaelson will play the infield, while Korby, Masessa, Fossland, Nelson, Janigo and Vance all play the outfield and, at times, the infield.
According to Jezierski, Fossland is the team’s strongest hitter. The Virginia native ripped eight home runs this past spring.
“And not inside-the-park ones either,” Jezierski laughed, adding that she already hit one 280 feet this summer. “No joke I tell you, there’s a ball in a trophy case up in Virginia that she hit 370 feet.”
In Jezierski’s mind, his daughter Lizz and Korby have been hitting the ball nicely thus far as well. Korby, Cloquet’s former co-captain, ripped a hard grounder through the shortstop’s legs Sunday to win the game against the Iowa Pride.
“Some kids don’t get it and some kids do – she’s one that’s got it figured out,” Jezierski said of Korby. “She’s so confident at the plate and mechanically looks so good. She’s doing a nice job and is fun to watch.”
Minus Rosemount, the Xplosion haven’t been tested yet in the Lake Superior Fastpitch League. They’ve won all four of their games, outscoring their opponents 60-4. They’ve only played one game longer than four innings, as they’ve mercy-ruled everyone so far.
“Honestly, we just bat everyone and sometimes we start the order with the highest jersey number and other games, the lowest jersey number,” Jezierski said. “Everyone will be playing a lot in league play.”
Come tournament time, the Xplosion will take part in the Class B State Tournament in Hastings, Minn., in late July. They expect to qualify for the American Softball Association (ASA) Northern Nationals in August, too.
“Watching us compete, I think we can hit with the Class A teams, we just don’t have the pitching depth,” Jezierski said. “We’re geared towards state and being competitive. And I think we’ll compete well.
“I’m still learning the game,” Jezierski added, “and I’m looking forward to things.”
The Xplosion play Thursday night in a doubleheader at Wade Stadium. Saturday and Sunday they’ll take part in Duluth’s Lake Superior Classic at the Wheeler Complex, vying for a berth to the ASA Northern