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Section 7A softball: Rebels clinch trip to state with back-to-back wins over Cherry

The state tournament appearance for Moose Lake/Willow River is its first since forming a co-op in 1985, and marks 40 years since their state championship run as the Moose Lake Lakers in 1982.

Players celebrate
Members of the Moose Lake/Willow River softball team celebrate after defeating Cherry in the Section 7A championship game, Thursday, June 2, 2022 at Braun Park.
Jake Przytarski / Cloquet Pine Journal
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CLOQUET — For the first time since their magical state championship run in 1982, the Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels are heading back to the MSHSL Class A state softball tournament after defeating No. 2 seed Cherry twice in the Section 7A final held at Braun Park, Thursday, June 2.

The top-seeded Rebels took the road less traveled on their way to capturing the section crown after rattling off three-consecutive wins in the elimination bracket to reach the section final. There, they defeated the Tigers 7-1 and 11-1 (six innings), to clinch their spot in the state tournament for the first time in 40 years.

The section championship sweep was a testament to the team’s resilience, according to coach Kelly Goeb.

“This team really just gets along. They work hard (and) they believe in each other,” Goeb said. “They don’t panic (and) they have so much fun. I mean before our games they were back there line dancing and just staying cool and chilled. They’ve just worked really hard.”

Senior Janna Bode said the section championship is a culmination of years of hard work.

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“It feels pretty great. We’ve been working towards this for years,” Bode said. “It’s been the same team for a while now … I think we really deserve it.”

Even after falling to Carlton/Wrenshall in the quarterfinals, Bode said the team never wavered in its confidence and simply continued to work towards its end goal.

“We have this chant where we say, ‘day by day,’ which basically means get better every single day. I think we’ve really worked towards that,” Bode said.

Moose Lake-Willow River 7, Cherry 1

Facing Tigers ace Lauren Staples for the first time this season, the ever-dangerous Rebels lineup took some time to heat up before eventually catching fire in the latter innings of game one.

Goeb said it was just a matter of sticking with it after the slow start offensively.

“We hadn’t seen their pitcher when we played them in the regular season ... So it just took a little while for them to see her, get a rhythm and see what her pitches were like. And the second time through the order we were ready to go,” Goeb said.

Cherry held a 1-0 lead into the fourth inning before MLWR plated the tying run on a base hit from Bode to score Natalie Mikrot, who reached with an infield single.

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

The Rebels picked up right where they left off their next time up with a four-run frame in the top of the fifth, set in motion by a leadoff double from Hannah Roach, followed by an infield bunt and a two-RBI single off the bat of Hallie Klavu. Sandra Ribich went on to drive in the team’s fourth run with a base hit before the fifth run scored on a wild pitch.

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MLWR scored its sixth and seventh runs in the final two innings via a base hit off the bat of Sarah Christy and another wild pitch.

Christy earned the win in the circle for the Rebels after pitching six complete innings with three strikeouts while giving up only a pair of hits. Alexis Hoffman took over for Christy in the seventh, where she recorded the final three outs with a pair of strikeouts.

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 / Cloquet Pine Journal

WP: Sarah Christy 6IP, 1R, 0ER, 2H, 3K, 0BB; Alexis Hoffmann 1IP, 0R, 1H, 2K, 0BB

LP: Lauren Staples 4IP, 4ER, 7H, 2K, 0BB

MLWR: Hallie Klavu 2x4, 2RBI; Sarah Christy 1x4, RBI; Sandra Ribich 1x4, RBI; Natalie Mikrot 2x3, 2R; Janna Bode 1x3, RBI; Hannah Roach 2x3 (2B), 2R; Megan Hattenberger 2x3.

C: Lauren Staples 1x3; Faith Zgangar 1x3; Lydia Greenly 1x3.

Moose Lake-Willow River 11, Cherry 1

The Rebels once again found themselves staring down an early deficit in game two after Cherry plated its first and only run of the game in the top of the first inning with an RBI double off the bat of Faith Zganjar.

This time around, however, MLWR’s response came swiftly, and set the tone for the remainder of the game.

A leadoff single from Klavu kicked off the momentum-shifting three-run inning for the Rebels in the bottom of the first, followed by RBI hits from Ribich and Lily Kahara to drive in a pair of runs. Mikrot picked up an RBI with a groundout in her first plate appearance to score Christy, who reached on an error.

MLWR was held scoreless in its next two plate appearances, but came alive once more in the bottom of the fifth with a six-run burst to all but seal Cherry’s fate.

Base runner caught in a pickle
Moose Lake/Willow River's Maci Kukuk tries to avoid getting tagged out during the Section 7A championship game against Cherry, Thursday, June 2, 2022 at Braun Park.
Jake Przytarski / Cloquet Pine Journal

Megan Hattenberger, Christy and Ribich all contributed extra-base hits in the marathon inning, which extended the Rebels’ lead to 10-1 through five complete. MLWR’s final run in the bottom of the sixth prompted the 10-run rule to clinch victory.

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Christy was back in the circle in game two, where she delivered another strong outing for the Rebels complete with four strikeouts, while surrendering only four hits.

"She’s just been such a leader on this team,” Goeb said of Christy. “She really has just stepped up and just takes over, and when she’s on the mound, you know things are going to go her way. She’s stabilized, she’s matured (and) she’s worked hard. She throws a heck of a strike and a heck of a changeup, which we didn’t have to use very much today, but she’s a great pitcher.”

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 / Cloquet Pine Journal

WP: Sarah Christy 6IP, 1ER, 4H, 3K, 0BB

LP: Lauren Staples 5.2IP, 5ER, 13H, 2K, 1BB

MLWR: Hallie Klavu 2x4 (2B), 2R; Sarah Christy 2x4 (3B), 2R; Jorja Jusczak 2SB; Sandra Ribich 2R, 3SB; Natlaie Mikrot 1x4; Lily Kahara 4x4, 3RBI, 2SB; Janna Bode 2x3; Hannah Roach 1x2 (3B); Megan Hattenberger 1x2.

C: Lauren Staples 1x3; Hailey Greenly 1x2, Faith Zganjar 1x3 (2B), RBI; Lydia Greenly 1x2.

Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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