Cloquet caps off historic run with third-place finishCracking a three-run, walk-off homer in last week’s Minnesota state softball tournament, Cloquet centerfielder Kayla Masessa approached home plate smiling from ear to ear.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
NORTH MANKATO – Cracking a three-run, walk-off homer in last week’s Minnesota state softball tournament, Cloquet centerfielder Kayla Masessa approached home plate smiling from ear to ear.
Much like she and her fellow Lumberjacks have done all postseason long.
Behind dreamlike moments like Masessa’s, Cloquet placed third in Class AA last Friday afternoon at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn. The finish was the highest for the program in school history.
Masessa’s blast was perhaps the peak of the Lumberjacks’ playoff run. Trailing 3-1 against Mound Westonka last Thursday in the opening day quarterfinals, the leadoff hitter sent the first pitch over the left centerfield fence with two outs in the final inning.
“At first I just thought I popped it up to left center,” Masessa said. “Then once I saw it go over, I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.”
An avid summer player, it was the senior’s first-ever homer in high school.
“It was a great feeling,” Masessa said. “It was just a lot of fun.”
In the 4-3 win over the White Hawks, Alyssa Michaelson led off the final inning with a walk, while winning pitcher Chandler Beaupre singled. Sammy Zeadow later popped up, and then Jade Benko struck out before Masessa’s fireworks.
“I was watching our runners and never actually saw the home run,” Cloquet Coach Ron Tondryk said. “The next thing I know the umpire was giving the home run signal. What a phenomenal finish. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Masessa’s bomb sent streaking Cloquet into the state semifinals against St. Anthony Village that same night. Again behind – this time 3-0 in the final frame – the Lumberjacks rallied to load the bases with two outs and the winning run on second base before senior second baseman Kelly Carlson struck out.
It was Cloquet’s only loss in a postseason season stretch in which they won seven of eight games in 18 days.
“It was tough to go out like we did in that second game at state, but in this game you have to have a short memory,” Carlson said. “We had to move on to the next day. I think we showed people how good we are.”
Cloquet toppled Maple Lake 8-3 the following afternoon to secure their third-place finish. Carlson led the way going 3-for-4, while classmate Shania Paulson roped a three-run double that put the Lumberjacks up for good. Beaupre got the win in the circle, allowing only two hits compared to Cloquet’s 11 the day before.
“We didn’t have much time to think about the loss and feel bad about the night before,” Tondryk said. “Sure the loss was hard, but we turned around right away. Right when we got on the bus that morning I knew the girls were ready to go.”
Among Cloquet’s memorable stretch were some special wins, including a no-hitter against Moose Lake-Willow River, a last-out victory over previous 10-time defending champion Hermantown, and Masessa’s unforgettable walk-off.
“I don’t know what to say,” Carlson said. “I think a lot of people thought it was a fluke that we beat Hermantown, but we were all confident in our chances going down to state. And we took third. That’s great.”
Both Carlson and senior shortstop Dalyce Gustafson were named to the Class AA All-Tournament team. Tondryk was also named the Section 7AA Coach of the Year by the Minnesota Girls Softball Coaches Association. Cloquet finished the year 16-10 and were one of just 18 – of 364 – teams to play on the season’s final day at Caswell Park.
“The girls were on a mission,” said Tondryk, who was an assistant coach for Cloquet’s last state team that took consolation. “You have to give these seniors all the credit in the world. These girls have always wanted to get here. It was nice to accomplish our goal and, I think, exceed our goal. It was something pretty special.”
Carlson is one of seven seniors who graduated this year and will move on from Cloquet next fall. She said her time has been well spent from the high school season to the summer growing up a ball player.
“It was definitely worth the effort every practice we had in the summer when we were younger,” said Carlson, who sports two youth state championship plaques at home. “This was just one last hoorah for us.”
“I’ve played with these seniors since I can remember,” Masessa added. “We worked hard, battled all tournament long and came together. We were playing Cloquet softball. This was all amazing. It was a great way to end it.”