Lumberjack softball team ‘stung’ by playoff exit
Losses to North Branch and Hibbing ended Cloquet’s season, but the team is going to be “fueled” by their experience this season and plans to bounce back stronger in 2022, coach Tyler Korby said.
After winning five of its last six regular season games and opening the Section 7AAA tournament with a 7-0 shut out of Grand Rapids, the Cloquet softball team seemed poised for a deep postseason run.
Unfortunately for the Lumberjacks, their bats went silent at Braun Park Saturday, June 5, and the season ended with a 10-0 loss to North Branch and a 2-1 loss to Hibbing.
Cloquet (13-7) managed just four hits and one run over its last 12 innings of play, but first-year coach Tyler Korby said he believes the Lumberjacks are just getting started.
“We have a lot of great athletes here, and we’re going to build on that,” Korby said. “We’re going to continue to want it and work hard and push and not be satisfied. I think that loss against Hibbing stung, but we’re going to use that as fuel to be hungrier for next season.”
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The Lumberjacks were a bit of a mystery coming into the season. Cloquet lost a number of strong players from the 2019 squad that finished third in the Class AAA state tournament. With no season last year, a rookie coach and just three seniors, many were unsure what to expect in 2021.
Senior Amanda Paul proved to be a resilient pitcher for the Lumberjacks, playing the last month of the season with a fracture in her right foot, and catcher Brenne McClarey provided leadership on the field and in the dugout.
Along with Morgan VanReese, the three will be “sorely missed,” Korby said, but Cloquet returns a roster full of talent for 2022, including outfielder Dana Jones. The junior batted .441 this year with 12 RBIs and had several critical hits, including a walk-off single against Hibbing where she drove in her younger sister, eighth-grader Allie Jones.
Dana said she has to improve her ability to move on from mistakes in the game, but she thought the team’s ability to respond to adversity this season was one of its greatest strengths.
“I think we bounced back — I mean, if we didn’t get good hitting, we’d bounce back and play amazing in the field,” Dana said. “We had a great infield and good outfielders. They say we were the fastest outfield in the section — that was pretty cool.”
The Jones sisters and the Lumberjacks had another huge asset in the dugout this season in the Joneses’ mother, assistant coach Angie (Macioce) Jones. Coach Jones was a standout for the Minnesota Duluth softball team from 1995-1998 and still holds four school records, including single season and career batting average.
After the game against Grand Rapids, Dana approached her mom for some tips on how to avoid popping the ball up and how to drive it further into the outfield.
“I was like, ‘Hey, are you seeing anything with my swing? Am I dipping my shoulders?'” Dana said. “She basically told me I was going underneath the ball, and then my next at-bat I was on top of it, and I got a base hit. It’s nice having her there to approach in all situations because she’s my mom. It’s just easy for me to go up to her and have that conversation with her.”
Coach Jones said she had been involved in Dana and Allie’s youth softball teams since they were in elementary school when the opportunity to coach the Lumberjacks came this spring.
“Tyler asked me to help him coach, and it seemed like the right time,” she said. “I had previously had some health issues that prevented me from being more involved ... and it worked out. I got clearance from my doctor, and it’s been a good fit.”
Coach Jones hasn’t just been a benefit to her daughters, she’s been “a fantastic resource” for the whole team, according to Korby.
“She’s just a calming presence and she does a great job with the girls,” Korby said. “She has a wealth of knowledge, and I pick her brain a little bit — I bounce ideas off her and she bounces them off me. We have a wonderful staff and certainly Angie is a great part of that.”
As for 2022, Korby hopes Allie will become a part of the three-headed monster in the circle next season, along with left handed pitcher Jordyn Sorensen and fellow eighth-grader Ella Maslowski.
Dana will have plenty of help in the batter’s box from sophomore Roene Diver and junior Brynn Martin, who tied for the team lead in RBIs with 15 this season.
“It was a really fun year with a great group of girls, and we’re looking to build on that,” Korby said.