Korby’s Corner...Lumberjacks leave their markAs I walked into Caswell Park last Thursday afternoon for the Minnesota state softball tournament, I scanned the complex. Fans crammed the bleachers, streamed the outfield fence and buzzed around the attractive North Mankato ballpark.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
NORTH MANKATO – As I walked into Caswell Park last Thursday afternoon for the Minnesota state softball tournament, I scanned the complex. Fans crammed the bleachers, streamed the outfield fence and buzzed around the attractive North Mankato ballpark.
Wearing my purple polo as an assistant coach for the Cloquet girls softball team, I squeezed into the stands to take in a game before ours.
I forgot we had to warm up.
Speed walking to the practice diamond, I arrived while the girls were still stretching following a light jog. We were on the state’s brightest stage.
Following a little strategic talk with head coach Ron Tondryk and assistants Tiff and Megan Anderson, I began to throw whiffle balls and we all got to work. Shortly after, we packed up and walked to the diamond.
Playing in our first state contest since the program’s inaugural trip in 2002, the girls were both excited and nervous, but we played our game.
Then senior leadoff hitter Kayla Masessa loosened us all up.
Trailing 3-1 against Mound Westonka in the Class AA quarterfinals, our 5-foot-6 centerfielder smacked a three-run walk-off home run over left centerfield with two outs in the last inning. People watching went ballistic.
Coaching at first, I never jumped so high, as I leapt down the baseline to meet Masessa and her teammates to mob her at home plate.
Winning 4-3, the noise at Caswell was borderline deafening.
With a break after our ridiculous win, I excitedly roamed the ballpark and continued to soak things in. A couple hot dogs and game recaps later, I met back with the girls to warm up and get back to work.
That night we lost to St. Anthony Village 3-2 with the bases loaded and the winning run on second base. Although saddened, our girls had nothing to hang their heads about as we all slowly walked to the bus.
Sure, it’s not easy losing in sports, but we had stormed through the postseason winning all six of our previous games. We dethroned 10-time previous state entrant Hermantown. We were playing the game our way.
And the next afternoon, we capped off our year with a win.
Defeating Maple Lake 8-3, I grinned again, shaking Ron’s hand as the girls celebrated with the state’s third-place trophy. Those girls deserved it.
The numbers don’t lie either. Of the state’s 364 softball programs, only 24 advance to the three-class state tournament. Only 18 make it to Friday’s final day of the season. And only nine end their year on a victory.
Our girls did all of that.
Topping the 2002 team’s consolation title, our third-place finish was the highest in the program’s entirety, while it went down as one of the school’s top performances in any sport ever.
Soon after topping Maple Lake, we received medals and cleared out the dugout, as smiles, hugs and countless photo sessions were shared by all.
As the heat of the near 90-degree day set in, the girls hit the shade, changed and watched the championship rounds. Like when I walked in the day before, I settled into the bleachers to see Cherry win the Class A title.
From there I also watched New Ulm win Class AA and Stillwater AAA.
We jumped on the bus, grabbed a bite to eat and enjoyed one last ride all together. Returning home, the seniors exited first and the others followed.
Looking by my car, I realized our equipment was short-handed.
Turned out, amidst our celebratory ways afterward, our buckets and balls were left at Caswell Park, 217 miles away.
No biggie, though. I hope we’ll make the trip again soon.