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'Jacks claim first trip to State since 1975

Rick Stowell fondly remembers the days when he would travel across the state to watch his son Connor's Cloquet traveling baseball team a half dozen years ago - they were good, real good.

Jubilation

Rick Stowell fondly remembers the days when he would travel across the state to watch his son Connor's Cloquet traveling baseball team a half dozen years ago - they were good, real good.

The same holds true today.

On Thursday, the talented Lumberjacks enter the Minnesota Class AA state high school baseball tournament for only the third time in school history and first time in 35 years.

They're confident about their chances. Heck, Cloquet won three games in less than 24 hours to get to the state pinnacle. And afterwards, they shaved their heads.

"There's no doubt in my mind that these boys can win three more games down there," said Stowell. "They don't think they're going to lose at all."

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Last week, the Lumberjacks rallied for a pair of memorable victories over Hermantown to send themselves, and the town of Cloquet, to the state baseball tournament for the first time

since 1975.

It's been nothing but hoopla for the boys ever since.

"They're kind of like celebrities," laughed Stowell. "I was at a lot of grad parties over the weekend and heard a lot of congratulations about going to state rather than congratulations about

graduating."

Stowell's been the man to greet around town as well.

"I've gotten a lot of hand shakes, calls and text messages," he said with smile. "And it's been very nice to see all of that support."

After all, Stowell knows his boys are in the right spot.

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"Since day one, this team knew this was their year," he continued. "They knew what it took and were ready when the opportunity came."

The Lumberjacks (20-7) clash with Mankato East (15-12) Thursday morning, June 17, at 10 a.m. at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.

And let's just say Cloquet isn't going in like a first-timer since the disco era.

"We can compete with the teams down there," said Stowell, who witnessed his boys knock off then No. 1-ranked New Ulm back in mid-May. "We've prepared ourselves since the first day of practice to be at this stage."

According to Stowell, this group of eight seniors has been playing top-tier baseball since they were in Little League.

"This group of seniors has been traveling around since they were 12 years old, winning a lot of games and a lot of tournaments," said Stowell. "Through that time, they've learned the fundamentals and, really, how to play the game the right way."

That's what sets them apart.

"There are athletes and there are baseball players," said Stowell. "We've seen our opponents have a lot of gifted athletes over the years, but this group we have here -- they're a bunch of baseball players.

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"Some games this year, we've won on intelligence alone," he continued.

Indicating his boys' smarts for the game is something Stowell likes to focus on, but a person can't go to a game without noticing their flat-out talent as well.

Cloquet is what fans call an all-around ball club. They hit, pitch and play defense with the best. And it's not just from one kid, it's the entire lineup.

The Lumberjacks are guided on the bump by their quartet of hurlers in seniors Thomas Rogers, Connor Stowell and Tyler Tollerud and sophomore Adam Hanson - all of whom have at least four wins this spring.

In terms of hitting, Cloquet is headed by senior August Reynolds, who is batting an unheard of .462, followed by Tollerud at .379 and junior Joey Singpiel at .343. The Lumberjacks' team average

hovers at .315.

And defensively, well, Stowell says anyone can play anywhere.

"There's a lot of flexibility here," Stowell said. "We have a lot of different guys playing a lot of different positions."

That's been part of their plan since March.

"We knew coming in that we had to have depth at every spot," said Stowell. "So that's why we had a number of pitchers, a handful of catchers and guys who can play anywhere. It's all a part of our plan. So far, we've been very fortunate."

Comparing to the 1975 state squad, Stowell, a sophomore at the time, remembered something that team did as well as anyone.

"It's tough thinking back, but I know they threw strikes, played defense and had timely hitting," he recalled, "and we do the same exact thing."

Hence, Cloquet's arrival to the state dance.

"These boys know they should be down there playing with the best teams in the state, because they are one themselves," said Stowell. "They never think they're out of a game. And that's the most important thing, no matter who we're playing. To them, we're always in the game."

Win or lose Thursday morning, the Lumberjacks will play at 3 p.m. in St. Cloud Thursday afternoon.

If they win both contests, they'll play in the Class AA title game at Target Field at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 19, for the state baseball championship.

"Since the high school league announced it earlier this year, the boys have made it their goal to get to Target Field," said Stowell. "We have our work cut out for us. The teams left are of the highest caliber, but to play for the title on that field sure would be something."

Related Topics: BASEBALLCLOQUET
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