Xplosion prepare for national tournamentSteve Jezierski has one goal in mind heading to nationals. “My objective is to play as many games as we can possibly play,” said Jezierski, the head coach of the Minnesota Xplosion 18-and-under traveling softball team. “We want to play more than one on Sunday.”
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Steve Jezierski has one goal in mind heading to nationals.
“My objective is to play as many games as we can possibly play,” said Jezierski, the head coach of the Minnesota Xplosion 18-and-under traveling softball team. “We want to play more than one on Sunday.”
That failed to happen last weekend at state.
Participating in the ASA Class B state tournament in Hastings, Minn., the Xplosion fell to Hollywood – a hand-selected metro team from the Twin Cities – 3-2 in extra innings Sunday morning.
The Xplosion finished 2-2 at state and are now 18-13 overall, according to Jezierski. But to him, things need to clean up a bit.
“Last weekend we didn’t go out and take a win,” Jezierski said. “We never found a clutch hit when we needed it. You have to figure out a way to win against good teams, and we haven’t figured it out yet.”
Though improvement is needed with the Xplosion, the team qualified for the ASA Class B northern national tournament in Rochester with solid play in Duluth’s Lake Superior Classic in late June, as well as the Eagan National Qualifier in early July.
As of Wednesday, the national event schedule was still being determined. Currently, the
tournament is scheduled for Aug. 4-7.
“I looked recently and there were 20 teams signed up, 11 from Minnesota,” Jezierski said. “I don’t have a clue as to how the competition is from out of state, but I know we’re
as good as anyone from
The Xplosion are compiled of players mainly from Cloquet; however, they also sport players from around the surrounding areas, including Floodwood, Two Harbors and Virginia.
Floodwood’s Molly Johnsen is the centerpiece to the squad. She’s a hard-
throwing pitcher with more movement on her ball than most.
“She’s as good as anyone we’ve seen all summer long,” Jezierski said. “She throws a rise, drop, curve and a screw ball that moves all over.”
But it’s her tenacity that he loves most.
“Molly is a real competitor,” continued Jezierski. “When she’s on the ball field, she’s all business. She really battles. And we’re very dependent on her.”
Although Johnsen hasn’t received much run support, Jezierski noted that she has continued to step up when needed most.
“It’s amazing how well she pitches without much run support,” he said. “But she’d probably tip her hat to our defensive play, too.”
That’s where the Xplosion excel most, on defense.
“We don’t make many errors,” Jezierski said. “When we do, it usually comes at the wrong time.”
Cloquet’s Kayla Masessa has been playing outfield for the Xplosion for two years now. She explained that at state, her squad was slow to get going.
“Some games we had a lot of errors,” Masessa said, “but defensively we got better as the tournament went on.”
Shania Paulson of Cloquet, the Xplosion’s third baseman, chimed in that their bats were too quiet.
“We just have to hit the ball,” Paulson said, “and play solid defense.”
That equation mixed with Johnsen in the circle is one that could equal success at the national level. Both Masessa and Paulson played with the Xplosion at nationals last summer in Missouri. Now they’re happy to have another crack at it.
“I wish it were farther away, but I think my parents like it closer,” laughed Paulson. “Last year was a good experience for us and a good time with all of the girls on the team. We’ve done it once, but I’m still looking forward to it.”
Masessa was quick to agree.
“It’s always fun to go to nationals,” said Masessa. “It’s fun to play teams from all over. I think we’ll have a chance to win a couple games down there, but we’re just going to take it once game at a time.”
Johnsen, meanwhile, is just going to soak things in. She’s a rookie at this.
“We qualified two years ago, but didn’t go,” Johnsen said of her former Hibbing team. “It should be a good
Johnsen is set to play college softball at Northwestern College next spring, but won’t be eligible to play summer softball again.
“I’m done after this year, so I want to make the most out of it,” she continued. “As a team we have really connected and I’ve had a lot of fun here in my first year. If we play hard and keep our heads in the game, we can do some cool things.”
“You see some good pitching and fielding,” Paulson added about nationals. “And yeah, teams are tough. But that only makes us better.”
Heck, if the pieces fall the right way, the Xplosion might have a shot at it.
“I think so,” said the veteran Paulson, “but we need to hit the ball.”