Cloquet softball qualifies for first state tournament since 2002The ’Jacks softball players kicked their game into high gear at just the right moment and will head to state on a five-game winning streak. After a rain delay, play should be starting shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The first thought Cloquet Softball Coach Ron Tondryk had during Thursday’s Section 7AA championship game against Hibbing was, “This wasn’t in the script.”
His final thought on the day was much better.
After beating Hibbing earlier in the tournament, Cloquet started Thursday’s championship game right behind the eight ball – with the visitors putting runners at second and third base against sophomore pitcher Chandler Beaupre with no one out.
“We didn’t want to give them any momentum,” Tondryk said. “We talk about winning the first inning and then getting momentum.
Beaupre and the Lumberjacks then grabbed the momentum for themselves, with Beaupre wiggling out of the jam thanks to a groundout and two fly outs – with the Bluejackets still not on the scoreboard.
That was the cue for the Cloquet offense, which kicked things into gear and roared to a 9-0 win before a big crowd at Braun Park.
The ’Jacks got down to business in the second inning. Lizz Jezierski tripled and Beaupre later hit the first home run of her high school career to help herself to a 3-0 lead.
Jezierski was the hitting star, with three hits in four trips to the plate, but Tondryk was happier to see the team get off to a good start.
“To get that three-run lead right away is sweet,” he said. “Sometimes in the playoffs, three runs isn’t enough. We had an 11-3 lead against Proctor in the seventh inning earlier in the playoffs and they got within 11-8. You have to record the last out of the seventh inning.”
After that, the ’Jacks pulled away slowly. Beaupre retired 11 straight batters at one point, and struck out seven while allowing only two hits. Hibbing also dropped four fly balls in the contest and made five errors, which allowed Cloquet to pull away.
Kelly Carlson added two hits and scored twice, while Dalyce Gustafson scored twice as well. Shania Paulson had two hits, walked once and drove in a pair of runs, and Alyssa Michaelson had a pair of safeties as well.
All that offense allowed Tondryk to have a much better closing thought as the final out was recorded.
“I was just excited for these girls,” he said. “There was a lot of energy at Braun Park. The kids get a chance to experience a state tournament and their parents and fans get to as well. I hope it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime chance, but for some players, it will be. I’m just thankful that we have been playing well and it’s fun to see the celebration of the kids, parents and fans.”
The ’Jacks kicked their game into high gear at just the right moment and will head to state on a five-game winning streak.
“When you beat a good Hermantown team you have to be happy,” Tondryk said. “[Hermantown has] been there for years. It’s a great time to peak.”
Yet now the goal shifts. Originally, the goal was to get to state. Now, it’s time to see how far the team can go.
“We talked about this three years ago with these players,” Tondryk said. “The goal was to get to state. We have had some decent seasons before and didn’t get there, and we reached the [section] finals last year and didn’t get there. This year, we finally got there and are trying to keep the momentum going.”
Any team that judges Cloquet based on its record might well be making a big mistake.
“I’m not surprised,” Tondryk added. “I believe that these kids have this kind of potential. You need good pitching, hitting and defense, but we weren’t playing the best for part of the season. People don’t know everything that went on – we had some injuries and we were looking for the right combinations. But now we are putting it together and peaking at the right time. I’d rather be in this position.”
Now the ’Jacks face Mound-Westonka, a team about which they know virtually nothing.
“We don’t know all these teams,” he said. “It’s hard to scout. Our goal is to win the first game and continue to play hard every pitch. My hat is off to these girls who stepped up and made the pitches and catches.”
To end the season, Tondryk has one more thought he wouldn’t mind seeing.
“It’s fun to watch them jump up and down on the field after they’ve won,” he said. “They deserve it.”