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Baseball isn’t just for boys

Ryan and Peyton Schmidt share a special relationship together, as Ryan is not only her Peyton’s father, but also a social studies teacher at Carlton High School and the varsity baseball coach. As their starting second baseman and a relief pitcher, freshman Peyton is the only girl on the Bulldogs baseball team this spring. She’s not, however, the only girl playing baseball in Carlton County this year. Tyler Korby/news@pinejournal.com

CARLTON—As snow flurries began to fall at a frigid Chub Lake Park Tuesday evening, Peyton Schmidt stood behind the fence watching her friends finish playing softball.

“I’ve never played,” said Schmidt, when asked if she could execute the underhand pitching motion used in the sport. “I have no idea how to do that. I think if I started pitching a softball, I’d end up throwing overhand. You can’t do that.”

What the Carlton freshman can do is pretty remarkable to say the least. Just minutes before rushing up the hill to watch her friends and classmates complete their softball game, Schmidt was playing on the Bulldogs’ varsity baseball team. Not just playing, but starting, and she pitched Tuesday.

Yes, the 5-foot-4, 15-year-old recorded three outs for Carlton against Two Harbors, a game they eventually lost 19-3 in a shortened five innings. Don’t forget that she’s the team’s starting second baseman, and she stuck around after and hit a double and scored a run to help the junior varsity.

“I’ve seen her play short, second, she can hit, pitch, I’ve seen her in the outfield a couple of times — just all around,” said junior teammate Sam Macor. “She can play quite a bit.”

Playing baseball has been Schmidt’s life. Admitting she’s more of a tomboy, Schmidt started her career with T-ball.

“I was good at it and it just kind of stuck,” Schmidt said, noting it’s not always been easy being the only girl in a baseball uniform. “It’s a challenge, but I like being around the guys. They treat me just like anyone. We joke around at times, but they really respect me and know that I can play.”

“She’s been with us all of this time,” added Macor. “She’s part of the team. For us, this is just like any other year.”

Perhaps the neatest part of the story is that Schmidt’s father, Ryan, is the coach. He’s also her social studies teacher.

“It’s a special relationship for us,” said Ryan, who said he adores that his middle daughter plays baseball, but has never been forced to. “She loves baseball. She’s always wanted to play with the boys. And she hangs right in there with them.”

Ryan estimated that Peyton throws in the upper 50s, and — although not overpowering — and she can hit the zone consistently from 60 feet, 6 inches, opposed to softball’s 43-foot length.

That only helps the Polar League and Section 7A Bulldogs, who also will look for contributions from lone senior Marshall Bennett, juniors Macor, Evan Gray, Nate Nilsen, Tyler Ojibway and sophomores Jackson Mickle and Leif Herman.

“[Peyton] refers to them as her team of big brothers,” Ryan said. “And it’s just so much fun to be around that.”

The Bulldogs aren’t the only small school in the county with a female in the field, as nearby neighbor Wrenshall does too, with eighth-grader Aja Jezierski coming out for the team.

The Wrens, led by first-year coach and former volunteer assistant Paul DeVall who took over from Doug Frank, are ultra-young and have just 16 total players.

DeVall said Tuesday that only his son, junior Adam DeVall, and sophomore Brennan Kelley have the team’s only experience on a squad with no seniors and 13 underclassmen.

“We’re really focusing on the fundamentals,” said DeVall, noting they practice at their under-regulation-sized field in Wrenshall but will host all of their home games at Braun Park again. “They’re a good group of kids with a lot of energy and are fun to be around. I have no doubt that between our first game and our last, we’ll see significant improvement.”

Mike Klyve echoed that statement in Barnum, as the town’s football coach now takes over the baseball team on an interim basis for Tony Bender, who is out due to health issues but expected to return next spring.

Klyve, an assistant under Bender the past four years, said although there may have been some issues on the field last season, the Bombers should be much better experienced this time around, especially with the help of do-it-all seniors Chris Carlson, Hunter Lake and Mason Agurkis — all of whom can pitch. Football players in senior Richie Parzy and junior Colton Ziegler are also athletes who will aid in Barnum’s turnaround.

“Last year we had a lot of young guys and inexperience, but I think we’ll be back and not be so wide-eyed,” said Klyve, adding his team got outside for the first time Tuesday. “I definitely expect us to be very competitive every week.”

Competitive doesn’t begin to describe South Ridge, as the Panthers propelled all the way to last year’s 7A final against Deer River and are the likely favorite this spring.

Co-coached for a second season by Tyler Olin and Tony DeLeon, South Ridge revolves around its vast varsity experience and multi-sport athletes who can flat-out play.

Olin, who competed in the sport collegiately at St. Scholastica, said the Panthers’ five seniors —  Reid Clark, Zach Johnson, Cole Watkins, Trey Karppinen and Garrett Hanson — will all start, while juniors Christian Houle, Mark Lisic and Vinny Wood will be game-changers as well. With six sure-armed pitchers, the mound will be their bread and butter.

“We’re just happy to be outside,” said Olin, who watched his team play a doubleheader Wednesday at Wade Stadium to open their season. “Honestly, we’re really confident and it would be a big disappointment if we don’t head to state.”

Heading down Highway 210 this spring are kids from Cromwell-Wright, combining again with Polar League rival-turned-partner McGregor, as the Cardinals and Mercuries merge for baseball.

Contributing names on the roster from Cromwell-Wright include both Cedrek and Cy Sworski and Alex Kropp.

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