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Prep softball: MLWR hoping for three wins this week

After a disappointing loss early in the section tournament, the Rebels rebounded for five straight wins over three days to advance to their first state tournament in 40 years.

Pitcher winds up
Moose Lake/Willow River's Sarah Christy winds up for a pitch during the Section 7A championship game against Cherry, Thursday, June 2, 2022 at Braun Park.
Jake Przytarski / File / Cloquet Pine Journal
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MOOSE LAKE — The Section 7A tournament started smoothly for top-seeded Moose Lake/Willow River last month.

The Rebels picked up 10-run wins over Cook County and South Ridge, but their offense came up short in a 2-1 loss to Carlton/Wrenshall in the quarterfinal matchup, sending them to the elimination bracket.

MLWR had beaten the Raptors in the regular season, but sophomore Abby Mitchell showed why she is one of the strongest up and coming pitchers in the region in the win for Carlton/Wrenshall.

Afterward, the Rebels, especially the seniors, were upset, according to coach Kelly Goeb, but she had some words of encouragement for her team after the upset loss.

“We just talked to them and said, ‘Hey, this isn’t the end, this is double-elimination and we’ve played all these teams, we’ve beat all these teams before, we can do it again,’ Goeb said. “We just had to pull ourselves out of this fun and go get the next game. We worked hard at practice, we worked a lot on hitting and defense…We just kept that going and worked on hitting and our mental game and came back ready to go.”

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Senior catcher Natalie Mikrot said they weren’t just sad, they were angry. What’s more, she was encouraged by the fact that younger players seemed just as upset as the seniors.

“I’ve never seen younger kids get so hurt by a loss like that,” Mikrot said. “After that loss, the younger kids felt just as hurt as the seniors and they’ve got four years left. That was where I was like, ‘OK, we’ll be all right, it was just a bump in the road.”

Players celebrate
Members of the Moose Lake-Willow River softball team prepare to celebrate after recording the final out during the Section 7A championship game against Cherry, Thursday, June 2, 2022 at Braun Park.
Jake Przytarski / File / Cloquet Pine Journal

The Rebels returned to the field May 31 and won three games by at least 10 runs, including a 10-0 win over the Raptors to move on to the championship game against Cherry Thursday. The Rebels topped the Tigers twice to advance to the state tournament.

It’s the first time a team from Moose Lake has been to the state tournament since the Moose Lake Lakers won the state softball tournament in 1982.

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No school has been able to accomplish what the Lakers did during the 1981-1982 school year, winning championships in volleyball, girls basketball and softball.

MLWR (24-4) picked up the second seed in the Class A tournament, but Goeb isn’t going to let her team get overconfident as a result.

“Our goal was just to be seeded in the upper half and then you get a chance to play a team that’s not seeded,” Goeb said. “Not that that necessarily means anything, it really just depends on who brings their game that day. It’s an honor to be the No. 2 seed, but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win games.”

In the state quarterfinal, the Rebels will face Wabasha-Kellogg (13-12) at 1 p.m. Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato.

The Falcons topped Bethlehem Academy 21-11 in the Section 1A championship and have also won five straight.

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While Wabasha-Kellogg is on a roll, the team has been up and down this season, including a stretch where they lost 10 of 11 games.

Only one of MLWR’s losses are to a Class A team, the section tournament loss to Carlton/Wrenshall.

Player connects for a hit
Moose Lake-Willow River's Natalie Mikrot connects for a base hit during the Section 7A championship against Cherry, Thursday, June 2, 2022, at Braun Park.
Jake Przytarski / Cloquet Pine Journal

What’s more the, Rebels have a deep lineup with quality players and hitters at every position, according to Mikrot. Mikrot’s 26 RBIs is tied for the team lead with Sandra Ribich and two other players have driven in at least 23 runs.

What’s more, MLWR has two pitchers that can go out and win a game in juniors Sarah Christy and Alexis Hoffman.

“An advantage for us having two very competitive pitchers is that if one is having an off day, I have somebody else I can reliably go to to pick up the pieces,” Goeb said. “I coached for many years where I only had one strong pitcher and if that person was off that day, it was just we were going to lose.”

The longtime Rebels coach led the team to 13 Section 7AA championships in 14 years between 2006 and 2019 and three trips to the Class AA state title game.

Mikrot said the team has adopted the motto of the Rebel football team and coach Dave Louzek: “Work hard, have fun and expect to win.”

“That’s what we’re aiming for,” Mikrot said. “We’re hoping to go down there and not just be like ‘Oh, cool, we went to state,’ we’re going to go down there and we want to win three games this week.”

More from Jamey Malcomb
The Rebels held an early lead, but Nicollet scored a run in the top of the eighth inning to win the state championship.

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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