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Cloquet ousted from Section 7AAA playoffs

Cloquet sophomore Jon Baker pitches against North Branch in last Thursday's Section 7AAA playoffs. The Lumberjacks fell 4-1, then defeated Princeton Saturday 4-2, but ultimately fell to Duluth Denfeld 5-1 to be eliminated from the tournament. Contributed Photo

The Cloquet baseball team went 2-2 in the Section 7AAA tournament over the past week, but the 'Jacks were eliminated from the playoffs following a 5-1 loss Saturday to Denfeld.

Earlier in the tournament the 'Jacks opened with a 5-3 win last Monday over Zimmerman in Cloquet. Gavin Rasmussen picked up the pitching win for Cloquet by allowing one earned run over four innings with Alex Norrgard notching the save in a game that Tim Pokornowski started on the mound.

"Tim has been good all year for us, but he had trouble throwing strikes," recalled Cloquet coach Rick Norrgard. "Gavin came in and threw four very good innings and threw strikes for us just like we asked him to."

The 'Jacks scored three runs in the first inning against the Thunder.

"Their pitcher was struggling early in the game throwing strikes as well," explained Norrgard. "We had a walk and a couple base hits and we took advantage of their guy early, but then he settled down and pitched better as the game wore on."

Zimmerman fought back to tie the game with a pair in the top of the third and a single run in the top of the sixth. However, the Lumberjacks responded with two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take the win. Both Rasmussen and Jake Johnson had two RBIs and Norrgard added a pair of hits in the win. The big hit was a bases-loaded single by Rasmussen with the game tied at 3-3.

"We had the bases loaded three times and struggled to come up with a big hit," said Norrgard. "That has been our nemesis all year. We just didn't get the timely hitting as often as we needed to."

Cloquet followed up its win over Zimmerman with a 4-1 loss at home to North Branch. The Lumberjacks held a 1-0 lead after three innings, but the Vikings broke loose for three runs in the top of the fourth and another run in the top of the fifth to go up 4-1.

"Jon Baker was cruising on the mound for us through three innings," said Norrgard. "But they had a kid who hit a high fastball for a double with two outs to give them the lead. We had the same problem as in the first game where we couldn't get the big hit. You can't always win games 2-1 or 3-2; sometimes you need to be able to get that big hit and score some runs, and we couldn't do that."

The Lumberjacks bounced back from their loss by defeating Princeton 4-2 Saturday behind a strong pitching effort by Pokornowski, who tossed a complete game five-hitter and did not allow an earned run while striking out nine Tiger batters.

"Timmy threw extremely well and kept them off balance throughout the game," said Norrgard. "Tim keeps the ball down, changes speeds and hits his spots."

Pokornowski also collected three hits, while Norrgard added a pair of hits in the win. The pair combined for five of Cloquet's seven hits.

"We left bases loaded three times again," explained Norrgard. "We just couldn't bust things open and then you start to get frustrated. At that point all you can do is keep going up and swinging until you finally break through."

Cooper Grashorn, Rasmussen, Joe Backus and Johnson all had RBIs in the victory for Cloquet.

Denfeld ended Cloquet's season in the second game of the day Saturday as Jantzen Levy pitched seven innings and gave up just seven hits and one earned run. Denfeld took a 1-0 lead after one inning and Cloquet evened the score with a run in the bottom of the third. The Hunters added a solo run in the fifth and closed things out with a three-run rally in the seventh. While the Hunters were slowly creeping away to the win the 'Jacks struggled to get much going against Levy with only Johnson having a multiple-hit game with a pair of hits.

The 'Jacks end their season with a 13-10 record and lose four seniors to graduation. Backus, Norrgard, Ethan Bergman and Johnson will all be missed next season.

"That is a really good bunch of young men," said coach Norrgard. "They are all good kids and our entire team will miss them."