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Lumberjacks begin year with plenty of new faces

CLOQUET - Wearing his Cloquet baseball jacket with a stopwatch around his neck and practice plan in hand, coach Rick Stowell got to work. He leads the Lumberjacks, and he's as meticulous as they come. Go figure. In his first-ever year as head coa...

Kellin Lamirande
Cloquet baseball player Kellin Lamirande works on a drill during practice Monday. The Lumberjacks will open their season Tuesday when they host Hibbing at Ed Mettner Field in Cloquet. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

CLOQUET - Wearing his Cloquet baseball jacket with a stopwatch around his neck and practice plan in hand, coach Rick Stowell got to work.

He leads the Lumberjacks, and he's as meticulous as they come.

Go figure. In his first-ever year as head coach last spring, Stowell used his well-constructed game plan to guide Cloquet to their first state tournament appearance in 35 years.

"Sometimes it takes me longer to make the practice plan than the actual length of practice," he laughed. "We're very organized."

Stowell - armed with his stopwatch - puts together daily practice plans down to the minute. His Lumberjacks practiced at the Cloquet Area Recreational Center Monday afternoon - and things were right on cue.

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"We try to do it that way," Stowell said, "but sometimes it doesn't go as planned. We have a lot to go over this year. We've got a lot of new kids."

That said, the Lumberjacks will sport a new look this spring.

"Half of the team we have never coached before," continued Stowell. "We're back to square one, but we've got a lot of ability."

According to Stowell, the Lumberjacks lost eight seniors to graduation a year ago. On top of that, two current players are injured and two more are ineligible.

"We're missing 12 of about our 14 or 15 best guys from a year ago," Stowell said. "Those guys could coach themselves. We're doing a lot more coaching now."

Last spring, Cloquet advanced to its first state tournament since 1975, stringing off three wins in less than 24 hours to get to the state dance after being crowned Section 7AA champs. It was quite a special season.

According to the players, much of that credit can be given to Stowell.

"I don't know anyone who knows more about baseball than Coach Stowell," said Cloquet senior pitcher Michael Acheson. "He's a really good coach, and I have so much respect for him. He knows a ton about the game."

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At practices, Stowell wears his stopwatch not just to clock speed, but to develop improvement in a sense of competition. Stowell has his infielders, outfielders, pitchers and catchers on the clock in everyday drills set for upper- and underclassmen together.

"We clock 60-yard dashes, pop times, ground ball throws, outfielder throws, everything," said Stowell. "We have a radar gun for our pitchers - not to clock overall speed, but the differential from their fastball to change-ups."

Stowell's meticulous coaching style has been adopted by assistant coaches Jeff Ojanen, Brent Pokornowski, Merle Kelley and Dennis Conklin Jr.

"We have a lot of great coaches in our program," the head coach said. "They've been a great help so far and are doing a very good job with the kids."

According to Stowell - although young with 13 freshmen of 28 kids - his club has a lot of talent.

Many will be new to the varsity level, such as infielders Beau Michaud, Eric Peterson, Kellin Lamirande and Derek Anderson. In the same boat are outfielders Jacob Schwinn, Josiah Peterson and catcher Cole Johnson.

A brand-new pitching staff has also been constructed with Acheson, Tyler McCauley, Taylor Blundell and transfer Kaleb Kadelbach.

But Cloquet's go-to arm, glove and bat? Junior Adam Hanson.

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"He looks better than ever," said Stowell of his No. 1 pitcher and top hitter. "He's running faster, throwing harder and just looks outstanding. He's already getting some college interest. He'll be one of the best players in the area, no doubt."

Yet, even with Hanson anchoring things, the Lumberjacks' schedule is grueling.

"It's one of the toughest schedules ever," said Stowell. "We're a double-A team, but 10 of our 20 games are against triple-A teams that are not slouches."

"It's tough," added Acheson. "But I think it'll get us ready for the playoffs."

That's the team's motto.

"Our motto is to prepare for game 21," said Stowell. "We play 20 games in the season. We're going to try and get better, but we want to be our best then: Game 21."

Acheson is one of just three seniors on the club. He's played both VFW and Legion ball in the summer and was a role player on last year's state squad. Having been a part of last year's motto, the hurler knows what it takes.

"Last year was a really cool experience," said Acheson. "Getting to state was a lot of fun. We lost quite a bit, but I don't think we'll be as bad as some people think."

His coach concurred.

"We'll surprise some people," said Stowell. "You're not going to want to see us in the playoffs."

Especially with his game plan.

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Related Topics: BASEBALLCLOQUET
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