CLOQUET - Hosting their first home game of the spring earlier this week, Cloquet baseball coach Rick Norrgard noted that his Lumberjacks hadn't even been on Ed Mettner Field for a full day yet.
Superior can't relate.
Despite this month's inclement weather, the Spartans have been outside most of April on their artificial turf surface at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior. Comparably, the Spartans have played nearly a half-dozen games - or, almost double that of Cloquet's slate.
"It gives us a little edge," said longtime Superior coach Don Dembroski, now in his 20th season.
While Dembroski said it was the first time his team had played on dirt all season, the Spartans showed no signs of struggle in their 7-1 win over the Lumberjacks on a pleasant sun-splashed Tuesday evening, April 23, in Cloquet.
Superior wasted no time in already their fifth game of the spring, scoring in the top of the first inning when Ben Rhodes ran across the plate following his game-opening single and teammate Gunnar Hansen's RBI-double.
The Lumberjacks evened things at 1-1 when Jon Baker scored in the bottom half of the first, but the Spartans plated three runs in the fourth, one in the fifth and two more in the sixth to spoil Cloquet's home opener and remain unbeaten.
Backing winning pitcher Derek Fender, Superior (5-0) slapped out nine hits to the Lumberjacks' six, yet only Hansen's was for extra bases, as the Spartans often blooped balls into patches of natural grass where Cloquet (1-2) wasn't.
"We'll take 'em all," said Dembroski outside the visiting dugout. "Good things happen when you put (the ball) in play."
For Dembroski, the Lake Superior Conference victory among a healthy crowd milling around the historic residential park was one they didn't take for granted.
"Cloquet is always a tough game for us. They've got some good sticks. And, they always have some high-velocity players," said Dembroski. "We feel very fortunate to have the outcome we had."
"They played better than us today," added Norrgard, noting his team "just wasn't ready to go."
While Cloquet's Cade Anderson, Elijah Halli, Jake Huhta and Rasmussen all pitched Tuesday, it was Halli, a junior, who took the defeat in relief, following the sophomore Anderson, the day's starter.
Norrgard used the quartet of hurlers two innings at a time, often shuffling things up on the mound to get guys accustomed to the dirt due to their lack of time outdoors. Along with playing Superior, Cloquet has beaten Duluth Denfeld and lost at Brainerd - that's it.
And while they got outside Tuesday, Norrgard highlighted the fact that his Lumberjacks made a number of mental lapses throughout a game they never led.
"They're a loose bunch, but maybe a little too loose," said Norrgard, just after turning the park's lights on for the JV contest. "I'm just a little disappointed we didn't play better mentally - that bugs me more than the physical errors. It does for any coach."
"We'll fix that," continued an optimistic Norrgard, now in his eighth season. "I'm confident we'll be just fine."
That's because of his senior core, all four of whom are captains and the Lumberjacks first four hitters in their lineup, including Rasmussen and Jon Baker, as well as Nick Baker and Noah Niemi.
Jon Baker, an NCAA Division I commit to South Dakota State, is one of the team's most-gifted athletes, owning a fastball that has touched 92 miles per hour.
His twin brother, Nick, is his battery mate at catcher, while both Rasmussen and Niemi each had two hits Tuesday, doing a little bit of everything for the Lumberjacks.
"It starts with the seniors," Norrgard said. "They'll lead."
In doing so, they're looking to lead Cloquet to their first state tournament trip since 2015, when the Lumberjacks won the consolation title in then-Class AA.
Jon Baker said he was there as a then-eighth-grader, cheering them on in the stands. Now in his fourth-year on the varsity field - and Lumberjacks up in Class AAA - he and his talented teammates would like to add to that history come June.
"I think we got a good chance, as long as we rein ourselves in and start playing good baseball day-in and day-out," Jon Baker said. "The big thing is, we've got to prepare for games better. When we get here, we have to get on baseball and get in the right mindset right away."
That'll start Friday, April 26, when Cloquet hosts Moose Lake-Willow River as a part of four games in five days, including at Chisago Lakes on April 27, hosting Duluth East on April 29 and facing Class AA state runner-up Duluth Marshall on April 30 at Wade Stadium.
"There's a little fire burning in the back of the belly," Nick Baker said. "We were expected to be a little bit down, but we're a lot deeper than I think anyone's imagining. I think we can really surprise some people."
Superior 7, Cloquet 1
At Cloquet. WP: Derek Fender 3IP, 2H, 0R, 4K. LP: Elijah Halli 2IP, 4H, 3R, 3K, 1BB. S (5-0): Ben Rhodes 2x4, 2RBIs; Gunnar Hansen 2B, RBI. C (1-2): Gavin Rasmussen 2x4, 2B; Noah Niemi 2x4; Jake Huhta 2B.