Prep softball: Cloquet boasts strong mix of youth and experience
The Lumberjacks will look to fill four vacant spots in the lineup with five starters returning from the 2022 season
CLOQUET — As another layer of snow collected on their home field at Braun Park, members of the the Cloquet softball team practiced inside the Cloquet Middle School gym Tuesday, March 28, with their season-opening matchup against Superior rapidly approaching.
While there’s no substitute for on-field drills, senior captain and starting catcher Lexi Goranson said the team has made a great deal of progress in a short amount of time in their makeshift practice space with fielding, pitching and batting stations set up across the two gyms.
“I feel like we’re really efficient, and although it’s not ideal being in the gym instead of the field, I feel like we use our time really well in here, and it makes us a closer team,” she said.
Under Goranson and fellow senior captains Roena Diver (shortstop) and Jordyn Sorenson (first base), the Lumberjacks hope to take another step forward this year after compiling a 4-3 record in Lake Superior Conference play and a 13-7 record overall last season.
The team’s tight-knit bond will likely go a long way towards helping them reach that goal.
“I’ve known some of these girls since I was in elementary school, and we all play summer ball together,” said Diver, who finished second on the team with a batting average of .450 last season. “It’s just really fun being able to play the high school season with them.”
A total of five starters will make their return to the lineup, but large shoes remain to be filled in the absence of Class AAA first team All-State selection and current Winona State University outfielder Dana Jones, along with left fielder Brynn Martin, second baseman Sophie Diver and third baseman Justice Paro.
The void left by the talented class of 2022 has created competition for the vacant spots with portions of the lineup still in flux.
“We have some kids that are really fighting hard and working hard for those spots and we’ve got some pretty good competition within our own team, and that’s only going to make you better is continuing to have someone looking over your shoulder a little bit to fight for that spot,” coach Tyler Korby said.
One thing that Korby is confident about despite the uncertainty is the team’s speed, which was a calling-card for the ‘Jacks in 2022 with 66 stolen bases and 27 sacrifice hits and bunts.
“We always want that to be the identity,” Korby said. “We want to play aggressively and we do and we have some really good team speed.
Led by Blythe Proulx, Josie Lindstrom, Allie Jones and Diver, the team has more than enough collective pop in its bats to hit for power, as well. Right fielder Carly Johnson is another name to watch after pacing all Cloquet returners with six extra-base hits in 2022.
Still, the team won’t stray far from its small-ball style.
“We’ve got some girls that can hit it to the gaps and over the fence line, but we’ve gotta be able to move runners over,” Korby said. “If we get runners in scoring position, we’re going to be aggressive on the bases. And (we) gotta be able to bunt and run, too.”
The Lumberjacks will be led in the circle by Allie Jones, who pitched 113 innings over 18 starts in her freshman season, compiling a 13-5 record with 96 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.34.
“She took a huge leap last year,” Korby said. ”... Last year it was her circle, and this year it’s her circle again. She’s the ace of our team, and we want her to be confident out there and she’s continuing to grow. ... We’re excited to have her back on the rubber this year.”
The Lumberjacks are set to open the season on the road April 10 when they face the Spartans at NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior.