Xplosion, Bullets bury competition at nationalsThe U-18 Minnesota Silver Bullets, a softball team made up mostly of Cloquet and local players, has returned from the USSSA U18 Class B World Series in Rockford, Ill.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The U-18 Minnesota Silver Bullets, a softball team made up mostly of Cloquet and local players, has returned from the USSSA U18 Class B World Series in Rockford, Ill.
The team, coached by Tyler Korby, went 5-2 in the event and finished fifth.
The Bullets won their first five games of the tournament, sweeping their pool games against teams from Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri by a combined 21-2 and winning their first two elimination games on Friday before being bounced out of the double-elimination tournament with two losses on Saturday, finishing fifth overall.
“We lost to the Midwest Slammers and then the Northern Illinois Thunder 1-0 on Saturday night,” Korby said. “They were a team we should have beaten, but we left our bats at the hotel that night. We should have been playing on Sunday.”
The Bullets weren’t alone in Rockford. The Minnesota Xplosion U-18 softball team, also made up of local and regional players and coached by Steve Jezierski, went 3-4 in the same event.
The Xplosion team defeated two teams from Kansas and one from Northern Illinois in the event. Jezierski said his players learned a lot from the experience.
“We went as our pitching went,” he said. “That was the story of our summer. When our pitching was good, we were good. When it wasn’t as good, we weren’t as good.
“When we walked a batter at the wrong time, we followed it up by not making a play,” Jezierski said. “But when we played well, we played very, very well.”
Jezierski noted that the competition the Xplosion faced was actually not as good as some it had faced earlier in the summer.
“The USSSA calls it a World Series, not a national tournament,” he said. “You pay your $465 (entry fee) and you’re in. It’s not like you’re qualifying for anything. Except for the festivities like their ‘grand march’ at the start, it’s not unlike other tournaments we played in this summer.”
Jezierski compared it to the team’s tournament trip to Sioux Falls earlier this summer, which was a 32- team event like nationals but with Class A opposition.
“But any time you’re competing it’s an experience,” he added. “Just the fact that we drove seven hours to Sioux Falls and to Rockford means they were about equal.”
The Xplosion played in five tournaments this summer, while the Silver Bullets played in three and finished 16-8-1.
“I told them at the beginning of the year we wanted to build up to this [tournament],” Jezierski said. “It’s not like high school where you try to win a conference and have section playoffs. This was the last tournament of the year so that’s what we are playing to.”
The Xplosion began the summer with 13 players from 10 different schools. Chandler Beaupre and Jezierski’s daughter Lizz played from Cloquet, joined by Brooke Camps and Megan Nelson from Carlton and Andrea Youngberg from Moose Lake. The Silver Bullets were made up primarily of Cloquet players.
“We had kids from Two Harbors, Virginia, Proctor, Hermantown and one from Dassel-Cokato, who came the longest way,” Jezierski said. “We took kids who wanted to play ball and were willing to make the commitment.”
To be able to go to nationals, the team played a short league schedule – but did it in the Twin Cities to heighten the level of competition.
“We actually practiced quite a bit,” Jezierski said. “We worked on fundamentals, things that will help these players when they get to the next level.”
All told, though, the summer was about fun and that’s what the kids had.
“I had a great group,” Jezierski said. “In all the years I’ve done this I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed kids more than this summer. They got along great, the parents were wonderful, they were great supporters and we had a lot of fun every time we went to a tournament.”
“We have lots of kids going on to college ball,” Korby said of his team. “These kids kind of coached themselves. I flashed some signs and they went to work. It was fun coaching the Cloquet girls for one last season. They put in their time on the field and there was always a good, core group of girls. We won’t forget them.”