Fields are pristinely prepped and manicured to perfection. Teams represent eight states from around the U.S., along with eight international countries from around the world. Admission is free, concessions are cheap and — like I noted above — games at both Howard J. Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums are seemingly endless throughout the 10 days that these boys (and a few girls) make Pennsylvania their home. <
"It was a great team effort." Cloquet started district play Saturday afternoon with a 6-4 loss to the hands of Grand Rapids in nearby Soudan. Jon Baker was the game's losing pitcher. Not to be outdone with their season on the line, Cloquet then eliminated Ely 11-1 that same day to stay alive, with Gavin Rasmussen picking up the pitching win.
However, Niemi's Cloquet VFW lineup card is anything but average. Not only do the coach's 19 players keep his writing legibility honest — needing nearly two roster sheets to squeeze them all in — but they also have themselves sitting in this weekend's upcoming District 8 playoffs in Ely and Soudan.
This go-round, Niemi needs nearly two dugouts to house his VFW, as the coach has 19 players on his lineup card — technically, 138 percent more bodies than on occasion last year.
"She's a pit bull — she will not ever give that ball up unless I yank if from her," said coach Huff Emanuel. "She threw the best game I think I'd ever seen her throw. It was unbelievable.
"I was expecting it to be fun, but I definitely didn't expect it to be this fun," admitted Groth, the team's centerfielder. "It was the best experience of my life."
Neighboring Moose Lake-Willow River was oh-so-close to qualifying as well, but the Rebels ran short, according to second-year coach Brad Hubred. With the 7AA Championships held last Thursday at Giants Ridge in Biwabik,
Smiles were also common for Esko, as the hosts qualified all four of their boys' relay teams, including the 400-, 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter squads for a second straight spring. Yes, 8-for-8 if you include this year and last. "I guess so," said Esko boys coach Gary Beaudot with a chuckle. "The relays are so fun for the kids. We're just so happy to have all four of them go again this year."
With a quartet of seniors themselves, including a variety of pitchers, the Panthers can play with anyone. They are seeking their school's first state appearance. Meanwhile, Panther Nick Carlson was a busy kid Tuesday. Prior to their win over Silver Bay, the junior competed in the Section 7A track and field meet in Esko where the junior participated in the triple jump, the long jump and the 400-meter relay. He ran in the morning and then hurried to baseball, where he plays centerfield and has pitched to a 4-0 record this spring.
"Our coaches did well and got a lot of kids in. We got a chance to actually see what we have," Prosen said. "And the good thing is, we have a lot of options, too." That may be the understatement of the spring. Prosen's numbers have steadily increased over time. This year, he said he has his largest team ever. In fact, his participation has again eclipsed the triple digit marks. Track team members have to travel in two buses to road meets and, in doing so, take almost one-quarter of the school's 572-student enrollment with them. "We put quite the dent into the school attendance," said Prosen, an economics teacher at the high school.