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Braun Park hosts marathon of games for USSSA Northern MN State Softball Tournament

The MN Blast 16U team won the gold bracket of the high school open tournament, but not before some help from the Braun Park field crew clearing the fields in the midst of inclement weather.

Girl pitching a softball.
Minnesota Blast 16U pitcher Aune Boben delivers a pitch during the Sunday, July 10, game against Lakeville’s Minnesota Ice.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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CLOQUET — As the blue skies and sunshine on Sunday, July 10 — championship Sunday of the Northern Minnesota State tournament — turned to rain and storms, an all-hands-on-deck situation emerged as the field crew, coaches and even umpires grabbed a rake in an effort to ensure the final games of the tournament were played.

“It takes a softball village,” MN Blast Club Softball Director Tyler Korby said.

The championship games for the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) event, as a result of the delays, stretched into the evening but were all completed — capping off a marathon of nearly 80 games played on the Braun Park fields over the three-day event.

For Korby, whose MN Blast 16U team captured the high school open gold tournament bracket championship for a fifth-straight year, the feat would not have been possible without the hard work of the Braun Park staff.

“It’s credit to the field crew because if they weren’t there, it wouldn’t have happened,” Korby said. “They were the real champions of the weekend.”

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Braun Park head groundskeeper Olivia Diver credited her staff for putting in extra work in what amounted to 15-hour days for members of the crew.

“I was super happy and super proud of my crew, and I know we got a lot of compliments with being able to get all of these games in after the rain delays,” Diver said.

The 32-team tournament officially began with a full slate of games Friday, July 8, with softball players ranging from 14-18 years old competing in two tournaments, including the 20-team field for the high school open, along with the 12-team 14U tournament.

Girl bunting.
Minnesota Blast 16U player Roena Diver lays down a sacrifice bunt that moved teammate Carly Johnson from first to third base during the team’s Sunday, July 10, game against the Minnesota Ice.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The level of competition for the tournaments this year exceeded any in recent memory for Korby.

“There were some really high-caliber teams up here this season,” Korby said. “I’ve been doing this for over a decade now, probably the strongest summer of teams I’ve seen up here. Certainly the most metro teams I’ve ever seen come up here.”

MN Blast 16U club won the high school open tournament after defeating Apple Valley-based Lady Storm 16U National 8-2 in the gold bracket championship game.

Overall, the team finished 4-1 with wins over MN Ice 16U Ludden (9-1), MN Blast 15U (5-0) and Midwest Speed 16U Walsh (9-0). Their lone defeat came in the first game of the tournament at the hands of the Bloomington-based Clutch Hitters Graf in an 8-1 final.

“I challenged the girls after day one, and they beyond answered the bell,” Coach Korby said.

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On the road to their championship win, there was no shortage of standout performances. Aune Boben and Maddie St. George formed a dominant pitcher/catcher team that was used heavily over the course of the tournament.

“They were just fantastic. That battery right there is really fun to play behind,” Korby said. “They pitched and caught every inning of the tournament, so enough said there.”

Girl sliding into home.
Minnesota Blast 16U’s Aune Boben slides safe into home to score the game-ending run in the Sunday, July 10, game against the Minnesota Ice.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The impressive showings extended to the plate as well, highlighted by a couple of mammoth blasts off the bat of Blythe Proulx.

“She hit two I would say 280-foot missiles. She hit one that was over the fence, over the scoreboard and hit an SUV behind the scoreboard. So she can send it, that's for sure.”

Three teams from the MN Blast Club program (15U, 16U and 18U) finished in the top-eight of the high school open gold bracket among the 20 teams in contention. MN Blast 14U finished 1-3-1 in five 14U tournament games.

Girl slides into third base.
Minnesota Blast 16U’s Emily Gustafson grabs the bag at the end of a slide into third base after she hit a triple during the Sunday, July 10, game against the Minnesota Ice.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The season will continue for the MN Blast teams this weekend in Fargo, North Dakota, followed by a trip to Peoria, Illinois, from July 18-23 for the USSSA Great Lakes National Championships.

“We give up our whole summer to play ball, and that’s what they love to do. So we’re still pretty busy, (but) I couldn’t be more grateful to get to do it with them,” Korby said.

Fellow Carlton County teams represented in the tournament were Moose Lake-Willow River 14U Red (0-4) in the high school open, along with MLWR 14U Blue (2-3) and Cloquet 14U White (0-4) in the 14U tournament.

Related Topics: SOFTBALLCLOQUET LUMBERJACKS
Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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