Xplosion ties for fifth at NationalsWalking out of McQuillan Park Sunday morning, Steve Jezierski wished the season wasn’t over.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ROCHESTER, Minn. – Walking out of McQuillan Park Sunday morning, Steve Jezierski wished the season wasn’t over.
He just liked watching his Minnesota Xplosion softball team compete.
The Xplosion, an 18-and-under traveling softball team based primarily out of Cloquet, placed fifth out of 20 teams at last weekend’s ASA Class B Northern National Tournament in Rochester, Minn.
Although pleased with their finish, Jezierski saw more than just a final place next to the team’s name.
“The place was good,” Jezierski said, “but I was even more pleased with how we played and, really, how we competed down there.”
Jezierski said that was the squad’s goal all summer long.
“When we started this, I wanted us to learn how to compete,” he said. “Not just to win, but to go out and take a win. And at this tournament, I thought we finally got there.”
The Xplosion finished the national tournament with a 5-3 record, playing games from Thursday night until Sunday morning, where they lost to eventual national runner-up West Fargo Impact 11-1.
Trailing just 2-1 heading into the fifth inning against the Impact, the wheels fell off for the Xplosion when they allowed nine runs and eventually closed the game shortly after that.
“Just one inning. That was it. We just ran out of gas,” Jezierski said, noting it was their eighth game of the tournament. “But we dove and leaped and went after balls all over the field. I couldn’t have been more proud of those kids.”
That’s a lot coming from Jezierski, a coach now for 40 years.
“I’m not easy to play for,” Jezierski said. “But there wasn’t anyone who didn’t work hard on this team down there. We battled until the very end.”
Things didn’t start so glamorously for the Xplosion at the national tournament.
Their opening game against the South Metro Maniax of Nebraska Thursday was perhaps their toughest, a 5-4 loss in the final inning.
“We were up 4-2 going into the last inning,” Jezierski recalled. “We gave up three runs and found a way to lose.”
That’s when they returned the favor.
Trailing Sleepy Eye by a pair of runs in the final inning Friday afternoon, the Xplosion poured on three runs for a thrilling comeback win.
“That propelled us,” Jezierski said. “We came back and won that thing, but found out it takes work to do it. We used teamwork.”
Following their two pool play games, the Xplosion knocked off Hutchinson 14-6 Friday night, and followed Saturday morning with a difficult loss to the rival Duluth Red Corvettes 3-1.
“We proved there that we weren’t a good 9 a.m. team,” said Jezierski. “We slept through that game.”
Then a light switch turned on.
Facing elimination the rest of Saturday, the Xplosion rattled off three straight wins, beating the Minnesota Fierce 11-0, the McPherson Lady Express of Kansas 6-0 and the Clay Center Bs of Kansas 5-2. With the remarkable stretch of victories the Xplosion were one of six teams left on that final Sunday.
“On that three-game run, I couldn’t imagine there was a better team in the tournament than us,” Jezierski said. “We pitched, played defense and hit the ball.”
According to Jezierski, half a dozen of his players recorded between 9-12 hits apiece, while in their eight games played, the team had 79 combined hits.
The Xplosion also went through a stretch of play where they recorded 24 consecutive scoreless innings defensively, while star pitcher Molly Johnsen marked 20 innings of shutout ball, despite battling a head cold all week.
“She’s a horse,” Jezierski said of Johnsen. “And that’s the ultimate
“She gave us everything she had and in northern Minnesota, there’s nobody better,” Jezierski continued, adding that Johnsen almost hurled a perfect game against McPherson Saturday. “She’s a super young lady.”
Jezierski praised his entire team, including fellow pitcher Chandler Beaupre, infielders Vicky Fossland, Shania Paulson, Kelly Carlson and Megan Nelson,
catchers Lizz Jezierski and Sash Fjeran
as well as outfielders Makenzie Korby, Kayla Masessa, Brea Vance and Andrea
Jezierski also appreciated the help of assistant coaches Joel Korby and Mark Johnsen during national play. Overall, the Xplosion finished the summer 23-16.
“It was a great experience, both for the kids and us coaches,” Jezierski said of nationals. “We were always having fun in the dugout. All the girls just came together, and I feel we finally became the ball club we knew we could be.”
In Jezierski’s world, that made the trip south well worth it.
“I would like to think that we learned some things at nationals,” he said. “It was as enjoyable a time coaching as I’ve ever had. I left the tournament wishing we had a few more weeks left to play.”