Thunder baseball, softball grow through experienceThe spring sports season is nearly over for Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, but outgoing softball coach Kerry Rodd and first-year baseball coach Cal Barr both feel solid foundations are being laid for the future.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The spring sports season is nearly over for Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, but outgoing softball coach Kerry Rodd and first-year baseball coach Cal Barr both feel solid foundations are being laid for the future.
The softball team’s 9-21 season came to an end last weekend at the state playoffs at Braun Park in Cloquet – but not before the team upset highly-rated Anoka-Ramsey 8-7 in its second game.
“We thought we had a strong nucleus of players coming into the season,” Rodd said. “Through attrition, though, we ended up not as good as we thought we’d be.”
The team played the first seven games of its season without starting shortstop Savannah Hanson. Then they had a serious blow when starting pitcher Katie Youngberg of Moose Lake hurt her arm and couldn’t pitch.
“Katie was eighth in the nation in strikeouts-to-innings-pitched ratio last season,” Rodd said. “If she is healthy, we could have been playing in the regional tournament – that is how dominant she was.”
Without Youngberg pitching, the Thunder lost seven straight games. When she returned, able to play other positions without the windmill motion of pitching, the Thunder won four of its last seven regular season games. The team finished 8-12 in league play.
“It was tough this year because we had 22 recruits coming in between returning player and new kids, but between kids deciding not to come or deciding school wasn’t for them, we ended up with 13 players,” Rodd said. “That’s the way it is in junior college.”
However, Rodd, who is leaving the program (See story on Page B3), is very optimistic for the future and for his successor – whoever that may be.
“We have a solid foundation and I want to help whoever comes in after me,” he said. “We had a tough year – didn’t have a great year – and we still won nine games. Teams below us who have tough years win one or two games. We have an opportunity for someone to come in and build on that. The people in Cloquet and Carlton County need to realize they have a fantastic opportunity for their kids to go to college right here in their hometown.”
Meanwhile, Cal Barr’s first-year baseball team stands at 3-17 heading into a playoff play-in game with Rainy River scheduled for Wednesday night in Cloquet as this edition of the Pine Journal went to press.
The team lost its first 10 games of the season before winning but, as a first-year program, Barr wants his players to have realistic expectations.
“We are the 14th tier of baseball in the United States,” Barr said. “We don’t have scholarships. But the players have had fun and have had a great experience.”
“We are learning to compete and are doing better in every phase of the game. We started really rough and are getting better.”
Last year the Thunder had a club team that played only three games out of 12 scheduled contests, with weather claiming the remaining nine.
“So all of us are first-year players,” he said. “Of that group we will probably have eight or nine back next year. We have 14 total players, three of whom are football or basketball players who haven’t played baseball since their sophomore years in high school but are good athletes.”
“We are working hard at not worrying about wins and losses,” Barr said. “We are growing, getting better and learning. We want to develop the program. You have to have realistic expectations and an idea of what you are trying to do.”
One of the things the program is trying to do is win – one inning at a time.
“We tell the guys to forget the score and win the inning,” Barr said. “In our first games, we were playing St. Cloud Tech which is nationally ranked and had played 20 games. They were killing us (14-1 and 15-3) and we had our guys saying they wanted to win innings. The kids are engaged in the game and getting better.”
The team boasts wins over Vermilion and Rainy River as well.