Cloquet softball team one game away from stateCloquet faces Hibbing in the championship game today (Thursday, May 31) at Braun Park. The championship series starts at 4 p.m. with a second game immediately following if Hibbing wins the first game.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Cloquet softball team will have two chances to reach its first state tournament since 2002 on Thursday.
The ’Jacks defeated Proctor and Hibbing in the Section 7AA softball tournament on Tuesday at Cloquet’s beautiful Braun Park, behind two complete-game pitching performances from sophomore Chandler Beaupre.
“Chandler has been our workhorse,” Coach Ron Tondryk said. “The kids did a great job.”
Of course, the ’Jacks reached the semifinals by eliminating Hermantown 2-1 in the quarterfinals last week. The Hawks had won the Section 7AA tournament the last nine times it had entered, and defeated the ’Jacks in last year’s section final.
“That’s a huge win for Cloquet,” Tondryk said. “We are a good defensive team and we played defense well against them [Hermantown]. We got two unearned runs in the seventh and we were fortunate to take advantage.”
But on Tuesday, that was all in the past.
In the first game of the day, Cloquet (13-9) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against Proctor and led 6-0 before the Rails cracked the scoreboard with three runs in the last of the fifth.
Cloquet responded with a five-run seventh to go ahead 11-3 thanks in part to Kayla Masessa’s RBI single, but had to sweat out the last of the inning as Proctor scored five times in the bottom of the inning, three on a home run by Katie Leonard before Beaupre struck out the final batter for the win.
“Things got dicey in the seventh inning,” Tondryk said. “But we got some big hits. Sammy Zeadow had a big two-run single for us” [in the fifth, to give Cloquet a 6-0 lead].
Hibbing defeated Virginia in the other semifinal so the ’Jacks and Bluejackets then met to stay in the winner’s bracket.
In that game, Cloquet again scored first as Shania Paulson drove in Masessa in the first inning, and senior Dalyce Gustafson’s triple scored Kelly Carlson in the third for a 2-0 advantage.
The Bluejackets tied the game in the fourth but Cloquet went ahead to stay in the fifth when Gustafson doubled in Masessa and later scored on Lizz Jezierski’s double for a 4-2 lead the team never lost.
Cloquet put the game away in the sixth when Beaupre singled and moved up on a sacrifice by Breanne Baker. Masessa walked and Kelly Carlson then reached on a bunt single with both runners scoring on a throwing error for a 6-2 lead.
Beaupre made the lead stand up, allowing only four hits with five strikeouts and two walks in going the distance.
Hibbing, playing from the losers’ bracket, eliminated Proctor 21-8 after the Rails had stayed alive by defeating Virginia 8-3 in other losers’ bracket play.
Now the ’Jacks have the advantage of being able to afford one loss on Thursday. The championship series starts at 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon with a second game immediately following if Hibbing wins the first game.
Reaching the final is also full redemption for Cloquet, which started the season slowly.
“We were scuffling, trying to get the right mix of players,” Tondryk said. “We knew we had a good group of seniors, but we told the seniors that someone has to step up and carry the team on their shoulders. I believe Dalyce [Gustafson] really stepped it up. All the kids did. Chandler threw a no-hitter against Moose Lake-Willow River and that helped start us.
“We told them this is a whole new season,” Tondryk added. “The early part is done with. Let’s do some damage and make some noise.”
The team is only one win away from making noise on a statewide stage.
“We’re always reserved about our chances,” Tondryk said. “We’re undefeated [in the tournament]. You like to be undefeated, so you can just play the game we are supposed