Korby’s Corner: Miracle on dirt
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Sitting nervously inside the dugout as our Cloquet girls had a one-run lead on perennial softball power Hermantown, I watched as freshman catcher Jade Benko securely caught the final out in her mitt. As an assistant, I turned to head coach Ron Tondryk for a hand shake.
He gave me a hug.
We had beaten the Hawks 2-1. We had dethroned them from their 10-year run as Section 7AA champs. During our hug, the girls stormed home plate and mobbed Benko with smiles.
We shook hands respectfully, cleared out the dugout and could hardly go a sentence or two without recapping what had just occurred.
Trailing 1-0 in the final inning facing Hermantown Division I fireball pitcher Katie Thun, our Cloquet girls rallied for two unearned runs with two outs on one single play.
Dalyce Gustafson stood on second and Lizz Jezierski first, following hits and a sacrifice bunt by Shania Paulson. It was then that Alyssa Michaelson popped up a foul ball that was caught and things went wild.
I watched nervously as Gustafson tagged from second to third with the game on the line. As the ball went across the diamond, it was kicked away as Tondryk waved her home riskily. Another throwing error occurred from shortstop as Gustafson scored and as the ball wrapped up in our dugout, and Jezierski slid in head first before hugging Gustafson as the entire park exploded.
The noise was unforgettable. While our girls went nuts, I jumped in celebration and Tondryk fist-pumped at third, remaining cool, calm and collected. Minutes later we played three more outs of defense and the game was finished. Our coaches’ hug shortly followed.
Since the miracle on dirt, Cloquet topped Proctor 11-8 and Hibbing 6-2 Tuesday at Braun Park. Sophomore pitcher Chandler Beaupre has earned all of the playoff victories. In a four-game playoff winning streak, the Lumberjacks have trailed for no more than 15 minutes the entire tournament, sitting one win shy of qualifying for state for the first time since 2002.
Tondryk gave that credit to his seven seniors.
“Win or lose, we go with them,” he said of Gustafson, Jezierski, Paulson, Michaelson, Kelly Carlson, Kayla Masessa and Malyssa Brady. “They have been playing for a while. It’s all on them.”
Lizz’s father, Steve Jezierski, was on the first base sideline last week watching as things unfolded. A longtime coach himself, he said watching Cloquet play lately has been some quite special.
“I always come and give Lizz a hug and kiss on the forehead after the game,” Steve said, “but it didn’t hit me until afterward, how much all of this means to these girls. All of those girls are on the screen during games cheering and screaming as loud as they can. They are playing so confidently right now and really just coming together.”
Jezierski said outside the field it is just as supportive.
“There are a lot of hugs and high-fives going around,” he said. “But for those girls, I can’t imagine what school is like these next couple days. The state tournament is a dream until you get there. Now it’s real.”
Cloquet will face Hibbing at 4 p.m. at Braun Park for the section crown, with a possible game to follow if the Bluejackets win game one.
“I’m happy for those girls,” Esko Coach Brad Emanuel added. “They have a lot of veterans and know how to make plays. Honestly, it wasn’t a surprise to me that they beat Hermantown. If there was one team that was going to knock them out, it was going to be Cloquet.”
Now there’s one hurdle left.
And hopefully one more hug with Coach and I to follow.