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Baseball: Cloquet learns on the fly to win opener

Not bad for a team that's practiced two and a half times all season on its field and takes fly balls in the school parking lot for practice.

The Cloquet baseball team still had enough moxie in it to defeat Duluth Denfeld 8-4 on Tuesday, April 16, in its season opener — a wonderfully improbable win given the circumstances, but one that coach Rick Norrgard believes the team deserved.

"It was great to get outside and play," Norrgard said. "It was good for the coaches, the kids, everyone. The gym gets old. But we played really well, all things considered."

Norrgard's team has only four seniors, but two, Gavin Rasmussen and Jon Baker, are listed as pitchers.

Yet, as was the case last year, a weather-abbreviated schedule means that roster listings aren't always what they seem.

"Like last year, if you can throw, you're a pitcher on this team until I tell you differently," Norrgard said.

On Tuesday, that distinction fell to Baker, who threw the first three innings against the Hunters, and sophomore Cade Anderson, who worked the last four and got credit for the win.

"We did play surprisingly well," Norrgard said. "We had good discipline at the plate and played good defense, which was a real surprise with the very limited reps we've had."

Norrgard always expects his moundsmen to throw strikes and was happy with both pitchers — but especially Anderson.

"You try to keep pitch counts down early in the season, which is why we have so many kids we need to be able to pitch," he said. "We were well under the rules for both pitchers with regard to pitch counts, but they were both really good."

With previously scheduled games against Grand Rapids and Ashland already called off and rescheduled due to weather, the crush of games that's upcoming poses special challenges.

"We have a couple of stretches where we play five games in six days and that means you have to conserve arms," Norrgard said. "It's a positive to get through those stretches so you aren't hard on those kids."

Norrgard had special praise for sophomore Zach Tyman, who pitched up two hits in his first varsity start, and Anderson, who also had a two-run triple in addition to being the winning pitcher.

"Cade played some for us as a freshman last year, but Zach was out there for the first time on varsity and he did really well," Norrgard said. "We have a lot of young players, even pitchers, who are going to get thrown in there sooner or later to pitch. We've got some good arms, it's just that they don't have that veteran experience yet."

Cloquet is scheduled to face Brainerd on Saturday, April 20, then Princeton on Monday, April 22, and Superior on Tuesday, April 23 — with the ever-popular "weather permitting" thrown in as a qualifier. The team is scheduled to face Moose Lake-Willow River on April 26, Chisago Lakes on April 27 and Duluth East on April 29 as well.

So, Norrgard will have to learn his team on the fly. It's to the point where he can't even accurately predict how good his team will be, for one obvious reason.

"We've hardly seen them," he said with a laugh. "But we'll learn fast."