LINDSTROM, Minn. - After getting no-hit during their biggest game of the season and then watching three potential game-winning runs thrown out at the plate - two on the same play - it would be natural for Cloquet softball players and coaches to think back to the team's gag the year before and think, "Here we go again."
Enter freshman courtesy runner Breaa Rasmussen.
Rasmussen wasn't part of the team that lost twice to North Branch in the 2018 section championship round, costing the Lumberjacks a spot in the Class AAA state tournament. But she's been used all season as a courtesy runner for pitcher Lucy Sinkkonen and was on third base in the eighth inning against Chisago Lakes when Shelby Peil hit an infield roller to short.
And unlike the previous three plays at the plate - any one of which would have won the game - Rasmussen was safe to give Cloquet a 3-2 victory over the Wildcats on their home field.
Related content"I just thought it was a good time to go," Rasmussen explained. "You have to take chances to get to state and just keep trying to make our journey longer and longer. It was very exciting. As soon as I saw the umps' hands call me safe, I had some tears of joy come out of my eyes."
Cloquet (19-4) advances to the state tournament for the third time in school history and first since 2012. The Lumberjacks will play an undetermined opponent in a Class AAA quarterfinal next Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn.
It didn't appear this was going to be Cloquet's year again after Trinity Junker mowed down the Lumberjacks in the first game. Junker struck out 14 in her no-hitter, allowing only three baserunners.
Chisago Lakes struck first in the decisive game, scoring in the second inning off Josie Steen. Lucy Sinkonnen had tossed a six-hitter in the opener for Cloquet and was quickly summoned off the bench by coach Ron Tondryk to take over when the bases were loaded. She promptly retired the next two batters to get out of the jam.
"We had to (put Lucy back into the game)," Tondryk said. "We have been throwing her a lot for the last couple weeks prepping her. We had a rotation until the last couple weeks of the year and then we honed in on Lucy."
Cloquet, which had left the bases loaded in the first inning, then scored twice in the bottom of the second. Soon, the Wildcats (17-8) sat Junker in favor of eighth-grader Ashley Mandell.
"She was getting tired," Chisago Lakes coach Brenda Carlson said. "It really makes a difference if you can win straight through (to the championship round) because we had an extra game this week and that takes a toll. Trinity was ready to come back when we got the lead so there was a plan in place. The kids fought hard."
After Chisago Lakes tied the game in the fourth, Cloquet had several chances to win. It loaded the bases in the sixth only to be deprived by an inning-ending double play on a lineout to third baseman Desi Spicer.
Next inning, Kiana Bender reached on an error in left field and attempted to score on Keagan Anderson's infield grounder. But Bender was thrown out at home plate, and Olivia Diver, who had been on second base, tried to score as well by jumping over catcher Kaitlyn Istvanovich, who tagged her for the third out.
Allie Wojtysiak and Sinkkonen reached to open the eighth, and Wojtysiak tried to score on another infield play only to be thrown out at the plate again.
"I did say that in my head, 'Here we go again,' " Tondryk acknowledged. "We couldn't score and things didn't look good for us. We just had to stay positive."
Tondryk didn't hesitate going for it again despite having a freshman standing on third.
"That was unbelievable," the coach said. "Sooner or later, we have to score, right? We went to the well again. I think (Rasmussen) was in and the tag was high. That was an amazing game."
Carlson said she's never seen four plays at the plate to decide a high school game.
"We were pressing our luck," she said.
Sinkkonen earned the win by tossing 6 2/3 innings of four-hit relief with eight strikeouts.
"I was prepared like I always am (to come in). I felt good," Sinkkonen said. "I was really happy that we finally did it because we have been trying for so many years. I just wanted to push really hard and not let (losing twice) happen again."
Section 7AAA Championship At Lindstrom Chisago Lakes 2, Cloquet 0
WP: Trinity Junker 7IP, 0H, 14K, 3BB. LP: Lucy Sinkkonen 7IP, 2R, 6H, 6K, 0BB. CL: Natalie Thornburg 2x3, R; Paige Berquist 2x3, RBI.
Cloquet 3, Chisago Lakes 2, 8 innings
WP: Sinkkonen 6.2IP, 1R, 4H, 8K, 0BB. LP: Ashley Mandell 4.1IP, 1R, 4H, 3K, 0BB. C: Dana Jones 2x4, RBI; Brynn Martin RBI; Olivia Diver 2x4; Brenna McClarey 2x4, R; Shelby Peil 2x4, R, GW RBI in 8th.