Carlton seniors aim to go out strongThe senior-laden Carlton boys baseball team plans to make the most of its experience, while other Carlton County teams also aim high in post-season play.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Kyle Gunderson proudly walked through Carlton’s graduation Wednesday evening, but for the senior pitcher, another walk onto the baseball diamond would be most fitting.
Gunderson has helped fit the Bulldogs to a co-second seed in this week’s Section 7A boys baseball playoffs, which began Wednesday morning against Silver Bay in Hermantown, as this edition of the Pine Journal went to press. A loss ends the season, but a victory would allow the senior-laden Carlton boys baseball team to continue onward.
“Coach pulled us seniors aside today and told us this could be it,” Gunderson said Tuesday night. “This is a busy week — graduation, baseball — it’s exciting, a lot of mixed emotions. I’ll do everything I can to help this team get a couple of more W’s.”
Wins are something Carlton (9-4), has had plenty of this spring. Gunderson, a right-handed hurler now in his last of five years on the varsity, is one of six seniors on the team, including Erik Adams, Zach Veno, Jacob Eggert, Brett Balow and Venezuelan foreign-exchange student Otto Gonzalez. Coach Ryan Schmidt said that experience is beneficial, as the Bulldogs seek to make a run.
“Everyone can pretty much play any position,” said Adams, who pitches and plays outfield. “We’ve always been good. We just have to be patient at the plate, make plays and stay focused.”
“We’re playing good ball, and this is the time to do it,” Schmidt added. “We’ve had a lot of everything: pitching depth, a solid infield, timely hitting. We don’t rip the cover off the ball, but we’ve gotten the big hits when we needed them.”
Schmidt, also the school’s athletic director, needed to make plenty of phone calls to readjust the team’s playoff schedule to fit their graduation, and allow the core of his team to attend both.
“Otherwise it would have been seventh- and eighth-graders [on the field],” Schmidt laughed. “We want those seniors to put on that Carlton uniform again and get to play a few more games with their pals.”
Many games began Wednesday with Cloquet (9-6), Esko (7-8) and Moose Lake-Willow River (6-6) all in Section 7AA action, while Barnum (5-5) and South Ridge (5-3) — both winners of three straight — faced off in Section 7A at Ed Mettner Field. McGregor-Cromwell-Wright (1-9) also played Saturday, while winless Wrenshall (0-7) was already eliminated by Silver Bay.
Postseason games will continue this week into next, as the double-elimination format offers plenty of contests in the area.
“And as far as I’m concerned, seeds don’t matter,” said Cloquet Coach Rick Norrgard of his top-seeded Lumberjacks. “It’s the second season now — everybody is trying to win.”
“I guess if there’s one thing we have an advantage in, it’s playing on the road,” added Esko Coach Ben Haugen, whose team played 15 away games due to park construction at their field off Canosia Road. “Our football team didn’t have a field and they went to state. Hopefully our guys can follow suit.”