Cloquet stays alive, advances to Section 7AA finalsWith a trip to the state tournament on the line, Lumberjack senior Adam Hanson and the rest of the Cloquet baseball team are well aware the odds aren’t in their favor as they face Proctor in the Section 7AA finals Thursday.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
With a trip to the state tournament on the line, Lumberjack senior Adam Hanson and the rest of the Cloquet baseball team are well aware the odds aren’t in their favor as they face Proctor in the Section 7AA finals Thursday. The playoff road to get to the finals was much more difficult for the ’Jacks, who lost to Proctor last Thursday and had to scratch their way back through the loser’s bracket.
Now, following 6-1 and 2-0 victories to eliminate Mora and Hermantown on Tuesday, the Cloquet shortstop isn’t concerned about the team’s probability. Rather, he’s confident in their fate.
“If we play like we did tonight, we’ll have a good chance at state; we proved that,” said Hanson, who pitched a complete game against the Mustangs and flaunted his glove against the Hawks in a pair of Section 7AA Final Four wins at Fitchner Field in Hermantown. “If we do this Thursday, we’ll have as good a chance to beat Proctor twice as they have beating us once.”
Cloquet and Proctor will clash for the section crown Thursday at 5 p.m. in Hermantown with a game to follow if the Lumberjacks win the first. Both programs have advanced to state in recent years, with Cloquet in 2010 and the Rails last spring, each breaking 35-year droughts.
The pair of Lake Superior Conference foes split their season series, with the Lumberjacks winning during the regular season, and the Rails winning 9-7 last Thursday in Hibbing to send Cloquet to the loser’s bracket.
“They’re a strong program and have a nice club over there,” Cloquet Coach Rick Norrgard said about Proctor. “But we’re playing our best ball of the season right now and are ready to go.”
They demonstrated that on Tuesday. Just one loss away from elimination, the Lumberjacks scored three runs in the opening inning against Mora, as Hanson scattered seven hits and had more than enough for the right-hander’s 6-1 victory on the hill.
Facing Hermantown in the nightcap (9-0 losers to Proctor earlier in the day), the Lumberjacks plated runs from seniors Trent Moe in the second inning and Cole Johnson in fifth on hits by freshman Gavin Takkunen and senior Kellin Lamirande. Cloquet senior Taylor Blundell allowed seven hits, as he pitched past Hawks’ ace Kevin Stocke for the 2-0 shutout.
It was Stocke’s lone loss of the season and only Hermantown’s third.
“We faced their best,” Cloquet Assistant Coach Rick Stowell said of the Hawks. “Top to bottom, Hermantown doesn’t have a weakness in their order. Not pitching, not hitting, not defensively. But our guys came through.”
Stowell, who was the head coach during Cloquet’s memorable state run two seasons ago, said defeating those programs Tuesday was impressive.
“Hermantown has been to the section finals the last two years, and Mora went to the finals and advanced to state the two years before that,” he said. “Both are very strong programs and have such solid teams all of the time.”
Cloquet has been just as sturdy when it comes to winning. Led by half a dozen senior starters, the Lumberjacks are experienced and, according to senior infielder Derek Anderson, resilient no matter what the situation.
“I think we are more prepared than other teams,” Anderson said. “We know what to do on every play and always stay positive. We pitch, hit and play defense. And it’s good knowing that if you get out, the guy behind you, one through nine, is going to be there to pick you up.”
For that, Norrgard credited his team’s seniors.
“They make us go,” said Norrgard, in his first season at the Lumberjacks’ helm. “When it counts, your leadership needs to come from the seniors. That’s what you want. That’s what we’ve gotten. But we’re still taking things one play, one inning and one game at a time.”
Or, in Hanson’s mind, one step closer to state.
“If we play like we did tonight, I think we can beat anyone in the state,” said Hanson, an infielder on Cloquet’s 2010 state team and still undecided about playing baseball in college. “Beating Hermantown tonight was something, but now it’s time to look past that and take care of business against Proctor.”
Despite the odds.