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Blast return from national tournament with heads held high

The U-18 Minnesota Blast, shown here after their second-place finish in the Minnesota Metro Fast Pitch League (MMFL) state tournament, includes (front row, from left) Kaylee McMillen, Katrina Smith, Sami Zeadow, Kassidy Steen, Kaylan Risacher, Devan Masessa, (back row, from left) Assistant Coach Ron Tondryk, Makayla Langenbrunner, Assistant Coach Joe Beaupre, Jade Benko, Breanne Baker, Abby Wangen, Chandler Beaupre, Stacy Nelson and Head Coach Kerry Rodd. Not pictured are Kristi Anderson and Assistant Co...

Cloquet's Minnesota Blast may have gone 1-3 overall at the ASA Northern National softball tournament last week, but in the eyes of their coaches, the players achieved quite a bit.

The team split two pool play games before being bounced out in the double-elimination playoffs.

Coach Kerry Rodd couldn't have been happier.

"We played very well," Rodd said. "Our pitching was phenomenal."

The team won its first game 1-0 against Gillette, Wyo., behind a no-hitter from Chandler Beaupre and a hustling run scored in the first inning.

Katrina Smith opened the game with a walk, went to second on a bunt, took third on a passed ball and scored on a popup to second base.

"You don't see that very often," Rodd laughed. "I went down the line (as the third base coach) and wanted to draw a throw by saying 'go'. Well, Kat took it to the next level. Thank God she kept going because they threw the ball high and if she didn't score we might still be playing."

The team's second game was a 4-3, extra-inning loss to the Monroe Lightning of Madison, Wis. The Blast took a 3-0 lead behind pitcher Kaylee McMillan but couldn't hold it, with the Wisconsin team scoring twice in the fifth and again in the seventh to rally to a 3-3 tie before winning in extra innings.

"We played very well and Kaylee was great," Rodd said. "We couldn't have played much better than that and they beat us anyway."

In the playoff round, the Blast lost 8-2 to the Trojanettes, a team from Missouri, after trailing 2-1 in the sixth.

"We played 28 innings in the tournament and had only a couple of poor ones," Rodd said. "They got three on us in the sixth inning of that game and three more in the seventh, but they were the best team we have seen at playing 'small ball.'"

The team's last game may have been its toughest, a 1-0, eight-inning loss to the Siehm Xtreme from Michigan. Beaupre, who had pitched earlier in the day, took a no-hitter into extra innings but lost the no-hitter and the shutout to the last batter she faced.

"We had second and third with nobody out in the sixth and couldn't score," Rodd said. "And they blooped one over a drawn-in infield to beat us."

The result of the tournament was a great experience for the players, many of whom will make up next spring's Cloquet varsity.

"From our standpoint I was concerned we'd be outclassed," Rodd said. "By no means did that happen. We deserved to be playing those teams so that was a big thing to see from a young team like this. We can play with these teams and deserved to be there."

Rodd looks to a bright future for the players.

"We knew that the team that beat Hermantown to go to State (two seasons ago) was a team that everyone knew for quite awhile had a legitimate shot at doing something in high school. Meanwhile, this group of kids has been quiet in the background where not a lot has been known about them. What people don't realize is that this is a very physically gifted group, athletically, from incoming seniors to sophomores.

"I'm comfortable with their progress and so are they," Rodd said. "The evolution of maturity in this group is growing by leaps and bounds."