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Softball teams swarm Braun Park for state tournament

Roena Diver slides in ahead of the Proctor catcher's tag for an inside-the-park homerun for the Minnesota Blast 12s during the USSSA Northern State Tournament at Braun Park. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 4
Moose Lake-Willow River's Jamie Benzie gets a hit for the ML-WR North States Crane & Hoist 18U softball team during the USSSA Northern State Tournament at Braun Park. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 4
Aydann Pollard throws a pitch for the Minnesota Blast 12s during the USSSA Northern State Tournament at Braun Park. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal3 / 4
Barnum's Elizabeth Carlson catches a foul ball along the backstop fence for Minnesota Blast 18s during the USSSA Northern State Tournament at Braun Park. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal4 / 4

Twenty-nine teams in four different age groups descended upon a soggy Braun Park in Cloquet last weekend for a USSSA state softball tournament.

Teams played in U-10, U-12, U-14 and a combined 16-18 set of age brackets with Cloquet's Minnesota Blast program represented in all four.

"It was a good weekend with lots of games for everyone," Blast coach Tyler Korby said. Korby works with the U-12, U-14 and U-15 Blast programs while former Cloquet standout Jade Benko coaches the U-18s. "We played well throughout and had some good results."

The U-12 team reached the Gold division championship game with the high point of the day being a 7-6, extra-inning win against the Twin Ports Rampage select team. Katie Metzer-Korpela stole home in that game for the eventual winning run and also recorded the last out at second base on defense.

"When she caught the ball, that was thrilling," Korby said. "Everybody was jumping up and down. It was a marquee win for us."

Even though the U-12s lost to the Bemidji Blaze for the championship, it was a good weekend for them.

"The looks on the girls' faces was surely something to remember," Korby said. "They put in the hard work and it showed."

The Cloquet U-14 reached the Silver division championship before falling to the Moose Lake-Willow River entrant, the Dairy Queen Blizzards.

Moose Lake Coach Kelly Goeb took a lighthearted approach to the Sunday game, which was played after the rains fell.

"We held a muddiest player contest with the winner getting a Blizzard from me," Goeb said. "We had kids sliding all over the place."

Goeb's philosophy is simply to have fun and her kids certainly did that.

"We have a few girls from Barnum on the team and it was good to just hang out together and play some good softball," she said. "Winning was a nice bonus but we want the kids to have fun because if you aren't having fun, why play?"

The Braun Park event was the only tournament the Blizzards had played in this summer.

The Blast U-15s lost in the upper division semifinals to the Minnesota Snocatz, from the north Metro area.

"We beat them in pool play but they got hot after that," Korby said.

The Moose Lake U-18s reached the championship game in their bracket before losing to the Snocatz while Cloquet's U-18s were 1-4 in their series, but beat the eventual champions for their win.

The season is far from over for the Blast. All four teams will travel to Altoona, Wis., for an invitational tournament this weekend before playing in the Arrowhead League summer playoffs next weekend.

Then — maybe — the teams will split off for national tournaments. All four Blast teams are eligible for national tournaments due to good performances in prior events. The U-12s and U-15s became national-tournament eligible for their work at Braun Park last weekend.

"We're still debating on nationals," Korby said.

The Blast has 52 girls out for all teams, which is a record. In addition to Cloquet, the teams also draw players from Hermantown, Esko, Barnum, Hibbing, Wrenshall and Duluth.

"The kids have done a great job," Korby said. "But without the parents' help, we couldn't do this."

Korby thanked Olivia Diver for her work with the U-12s, Steve Martin and Angela Jones for the U-14s and Andy Mayry and Rick Norrgard for the U-15s.

Korby has coached 72 games this summer but sometimes his teams play at the same time and he needs the extra help. Add to that his full-time grad school schedule at St. Scholastica this summer and you get one busy guy.

"They are a fun group to be around but I'm grateful for the help I get," Korby said. "As for me I've got double and triple practices during the day and then school, but it's fun because these are good players and even better kids."