Cloquet softball wins third at StateIf you had watched the Minnesota Dynamite softball team play the first weekend of June, you might be forgiven for thinking it was a different team than the one that traveled to Austin, Minn., this past weekend.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
AUSTIN, Minn. – If you had watched the Minnesota Dynamite softball team play the first weekend of June, you might be forgiven for thinking it was a different team than the one that traveled to Austin, Minn., this past weekend.
Back then, Cloquet’s 14-and-under traveling team had a roster of new players, an uncertain lineup card and no team uniforms.
Two months later, they were transformed, placing third out of 17 teams at last weekend’s ASA Class D 14-and-Under state tournament in Austin.
Only one win from the state championship game, Dynamite assistant coach Ron Tondryk praised all of the girls for their stellar run.
“I give all of the credit to the girls,” he said. “They worked hard and stepped up to the plate. They just kept getting better and better.”
Tondryk said the girls’ willingness to learn was the key to their success.
“These girls wanted to learn,” he continued. “As coaches, we gave them a lot of information and they were like sponges. They took it all in. They learned at practice and during games, constantly. I can’t credit them enough.”
Saturday, the Dynamite opened up state play on fire, defeating Le Sueur-Henderson 13-1, followed by a win over Owatonna 10-2 and a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Hawley 4-1 in the nightcap.
Still in the unbeaten bracket heading into Sunday afternoon, the Dynamite lost to the eventual champion Proctor Storm 14-0 and let their late lead slip away in a 3-2 loss against Ottertail Central to close out the weekend in third place.
Dynamite coach Jerry Erickson was impressed with his young group.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said the longtime coach about the state tournament. “I thought that we were going to be competitive, but the fact that we were in the final three was a pleasant surprise.”
All in all, the Dynamite competed at tournaments in Superior and Grand Rapids and the Ashley Abrahamson Tournament in Cloquet. Erickson, who coached most of this year’s group in the U-12 age division last summer, explained that this season’s slow start turned around once they settled on a consistent lineup.
“During the first weeks we had a lot of kids at different positions and were still trying to figure out where everyone could best contribute,” said Erickson, “but once we settled in, we got better.”
Playing 40 games this summer, the Dynamite closed with a 25-15 record, also placing third in the Lake Superior Fastpitch League. They even strung together a 10-game winning streak at the tail end of the year before state.
Erickson said the pitching of Kaylee McMillen was vital.
“I’ve not seen anybody that competes like that,” he said of the hard-throwing right-hander. “She is a great competitor. She was the key.”
Erickson also praised the play of Sami Westendorf, who volunteered to catch for the first time in her softball career.
“She took over the catching duties,” Erickson said, “and she turned herself into a pretty good catcher.”
Tondryk praised the entire bunch, including infielders Taylor Leyrer, Hazel Erickson, Makayla Langenbrunner, Kassidy Steen and Kali Kadelbach, along with outfielders Hailey Ulvi, Hailey Martin, Katie Zezulka, Allie Masessa and Alex Oakes.
“All of the girls contributed,” said Tondryk, Cloquet High School varsity coach. “And our coaching staff gives them a lot of credit for what they accomplished this summer.”
“I’ve been around most of these kids for a few years now and I’ve seen how much they have improved,” Erickson added. “I think that if these girls stick with it, they can eventually be good high school players.”
Erickson even learned a bit himself from Tondryk.
“I’ve been around this business a pretty long time,” he said, “but I felt that I learned a lot about softball from Ron this summer. It was enjoyable.”
“We have a lot of people here who are on the same page and bring a lot to the table,” Tondryk said, crediting his entire coaching staff. “I can’t thank them enough. I’ve learned a lot along the way, too.”
In addition, Cloquet’s U-16 club, the Minnesota Blast, finished as state runners-up, and the U-18 Minnesota Xplosion is participating in Northern National play this weekend in Rochester, Minn.
“I think this summer was huge for all three programs,” Tondryk said. “Not only at state, but I have a lot of kids who want to play ball.”
That only gives Tondryk reason to be fired up for the future of the program.
“Our goals were to play, learn and get better and I think we succeeded all of those goals,” he said. “You can’t help but be excited.”