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Carlton climbs back to Section 7A championship game

Barnum coach Dustin Collelo takes an infield huddle against Silver Bay in the Section 7A playoffs. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 5
Barnum seventh-grader Mendota Castonguay fires a pitch against Silver Bay in the Section 7A playoffs. Silver Bay handed the Bombers a 21-2 four-inning loss to eliminate them from the tournament. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 5
Carlton coach Melissa Clark speaks to her team after their 4-1 win over South Ridge in the Section 7A playoffs Tuesday afternoon at Braun Park. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal3 / 5
Carlton pitcher Raeann Barney pitches against South Ridge Tuesday afternoon, striking out 10 to beat South Ridge 4-1 at Braun Park. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal4 / 5
South Ridge pitcher Celia Olesiak pitches for the Panthers in a 4-1 loss to Carlton in the Section 7A playoffs. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal5 / 5

It was a long day for the Carlton softball team on Tuesday at Braun Park, but Melissa Clark's Bulldogs are where they want to be — in the Section 7A finals.

Carlton (21-4) won three games in the losers' bracket of the double-elimination tournament on Tuesday and as a result have reached the section championship game against Cherry (19-3). The game is scheduled for 4 p.m. today (Thursday, June 1) at Braun Park, with a second game immediately following if Carlton wins the first game.

"It was a very long day, but we played well," Clark said. "We have to be happy with where we're at."

And why wouldn't they be? It all started with a 4-1 win over South Ridge, eliminating the Panthers from the tournament. Raeann Barney struck out 10 and scattered five hits in a complete-game win, out-dueling South Ridge's Celia Olesiak, who struck out seven. Between them, the two pitchers struck out 17 and walked none.

Ava Grondahl had two hits, including a double, and knocked in two runs for Carlton while Millie Groth and Abby Mickle drove in the other Bulldog runs.

"We kept the errors down, but our bats fell off. It's kind of hard to win when you can only score once," Panthers coach Liz Beseke said. "Celia has been our go-to person, pitched every game, and has kept us in every game we've been in and maybe some we shouldn't have."

"We only had two seniors who didn't finish the season, so we have everyone coming back," Beseke added. "We're hoping for a good summer for these kids and hope they play. We played two eighth-graders in most games and one (Mary Lisic at .500) led us in batting average."

That moved Carlton on to face Silver Bay, which had just eliminated Barnum 21-2 in four innings to stay alive. But the Mariners didn't stay alive for long, as Brynne Mickle pitched Carlton to a 10-4 win. Mickle allowed nine hits and struck out three, getting plenty of offensive support from her teammates.

Freshman Taylor Nelson had two hits, scored three runs and drove in two while Abby Mickle had two triples, scored twice and drove in two, and Alaina Bennett had a double, scored twice and drove in two runs. Hanna Thums, Everly Bauck and Jocelyn Russell also had two hits each for Carlton, which had five triples in the game.

"It's definitely easier when you start out on third base," Clark said. "We used the whole field in that game and it was really fun to watch."

That put Carlton into its third game of the day — and that went extra innings, a 6-3, 10-inning win over Nashwauk-Keewatin. With the game tied 2-2 in the 10th, Abby Mickle drew a leadoff walk, followed by singles from Alaina Bennett and Millie Groth, which scored Mickle for a 3-2 lead. Two outs later, Brynne Mickle singled Bennett home and Nicole Nilsen's hit plated Groth and Brynne Mickle for a 6-2 lead.

Barney pitched again, but the freshman finally ran out of gas after pitching 9 1/3 innings, giving way to Brynne Mickle for a save. Aubrey Nelson went the distance for N-K, and had two hits to help her own cause.

Now Carlton faces Cherry again. Of Carlton's four losses, two have come to the Tigers, including a 7-2 setback in the tournament's second round.

"They (Cherry) are always a solid team," Clark said. "They can produce runs in a pinch, play the small-ball game and move runners. They know what they are doing. They do the smart things offensively to generate runs and pick away at you."

But Clark says her team has learned from the first two games.

"I think it'll be a good game with two good teams on the field, and I feel like if my girls are all on at the same time we can take a good run at them."

The best news for Carlton is that their team has no seniors, which means the future is bright.

"We're young and that is a good and bad thing," Clark said. "Our kids need to realize that Cherry is good, but once the game starts they are a team just like any other team. Cherry can't win just by showing up. They'll have to beat us and our confidence is high after three wins Tuesday. I hope we can keep it rolling through Thursday."