Young Lumberjacks bounced from playoffs
Just like that, it was over.
After a 3-1 win against Princeton in the first round of the Section 7AAA softball tournament, Cloquet was bounced out with a pair of losses in Saturday's double-elimination event at Braun Park.
The 'Jacks fell 10-3 to perennial power Hermantown in the second round and were eliminated with a 12-3 loss to North Branch later in the day.
"We were just overmatched," coach Ron Tondryk said. "The teams we played just outplayed us, and sometimes that happens."
The young Lumberjacks, who had only four seniors, got a taste of life at the top of the section and Tondryk thinks they will be better for it in the long run.
"We didn't play badly," he said. "Nothing against us at all. But we have to get bigger and stronger, and the kids have seen how it can help."
Against the Hawks, Cloquet didn't have enough answers for Hannak Mihalik, who survived seven walks to post a complete game win. She also went 3-for-4 at the plate with a pair of doubles and four RBIs to help her own cause.
"We had opportunities, we had runners in scoring position but we just couldn't drive them in when we really needed it," he added. Cloquet had three hits in the game with one a triple by Kiana Bender.
That put the 'Jacks into the losers bracket where they were eliminated 12-3 by North Branch. Again, the pitchers' spot was deadly in the Vikings' batting order as Samantha Pederson had four hits — including a home run — while pitching a complete game six-hitter for her team.
"They just beat us," Tondryk said. "I don't think (losing) the first game affected us. They were just better than we were."
Tondryk notes that the core of his team is in the underclass and will use the experience gained to improve.
"I was hoping to be playing later on in the tournament, but we gave five unearned runs to North Branch," he said. "But like every sport, we need time on the field and experience, and to get in more situations."
Tondryk is very happy with the skill level of his freshmen and sophomores. "It is definitely there," he said. "But it makes summer ball important. These kids need the games to get better and get stronger for next season."
Tondryk pointed to a six-game losing streak over a seven-day span in early May as a turning point.
"We didn't get a break in that whole streak but we won four in a row going into the games we lost Tuesday, and I thought we were figuring it out," he said. "That's when I thought things are turning around and we are getting it, but it didn't pan out."
Tondryk had nothing but praise for his four seniors: Erin Dahnke, Lindsey Lamirande, Courtney Beaupre and Kaitlyn Gillette.
"You won't find four quality young ladies like these anywhere else," he said. "They've been with us for five years and I congratulate them for all they've done. They're probably as disappointed as I am that we didn't play as well in the last games, but they've been great."
Next year's team will have only one senior in Ally Martin, so the youth movement will continue.
"This is one of the best years I've had in terms of kids working together," he said. "It's a testament to those kids. We had some fun, and I just wanted them to do better for their own sakes. In that respect it's disappointing, but we'll be back."