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Youth softball: MN Blast team travels 1,500 miles on memorable tournament journey

The 16U team competed in Fargo, North Dakota, and Peoria, Illinois, in one eventful week.

Girl sliding into home.
Minnesota Blast 16U’s Aune Boben slides safe into home to score the game-ending run under the eight-run rule in the Sunday, July 10, game against the Minnesota Ice. The MN Blast 16U team recently completed 1,500 miles of travel to compete in two tournaments.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune
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CLOQUET — From tournaments in Fargo, North Dakota, to Peoria, Illinois, all in a span of less than one week, the Minnesota Blast 16U traveling softball team’s recent journey of well over 1,500 miles saw plenty of excitement on and off the diamond.

The Blast began the hectic schedule by battling to a second-place finish at the Red River Rage tournament in Fargo-Moorhead after falling 2-0 to Eden Prairie-based Arctic Blast 16U in the championship game held July 17.

With no time to celebrate their newly acquired runner-up hardware, the team departed Fargo at 9 p.m. and returned to the Northland at 1 a.m. to rest for a few hours.

By 8 a.m., the group was back on the road for the 500-mile trip to Peoria for the United States Specialty Sports Association’s (USSSA) Great Lakes National Championship.

“Their dedication is second to none, and I’m grateful for that to get to coach a group that is willing and wanting to play as much as they do,” MN Blast director and 16U coach Tyler Korby said of his team. “There's not a group more dedicated.”

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The MN Blast 16U team was one of 27 teams competing at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex for the three-day tournament held July 19-23.

Coach presents shirt
MN Blast 16U coach Tyler Korby presents country singer Cooper Alan with a team T-shirt in the lobby of the Hampton Inn Suites Hotel in Pekin, Illinois, on Monday, July 18.
Contributed / Tyler Korby

On the night before the competition began, the team was playing cards in the hotel lobby when one of the players recognized country singer Cooper Alan checking in at the front desk. After a brief introduction, members of the team took photos with Alan and presented him with a MN Blast T-shirt.

“He was really nice,” Cloquet junior and team member Carly Johnson, said. “We also made a TikTok with him, and he gave us some of his pizza. We just had a good time.”

Players pose for picture with artist
Roena Diver, Morgan Olesiak, Blythe Proulx, Carly Johnson, Aydann Pollard and Brooke Proulx of the MN Blast 16U team pose for a photo with country music singer Cooper Alan in the lobby of the Hampton Inn and Suites Hotel in Pekin, Illinois, on Monday, July 18.
Contributed / Carly Johnson

When play began the following afternoon, the club was sharp out of the gate, going undefeated (3-0) in pool play against teams from Wisconsin, Illinois and the Twin Cities to advance to the winner’s bracket. There, the team went 1-2 after defeating Heat Premier 15U of Illinois, while dropping a pair of games to ISA-Black 16U of De Pere, Wisconsin, and a nail-biter to Langhorne Lightning 16U National out of Pennsylvania.

The experience of playing under the lights at Louisville Slugger Sports Complex against unique opponents was something the players and coaches won’t soon forget.

“It’s just super cool, because there’s not another time where we’re probably going to play a team that’s (located) less than two hours away from New York City. And that’s part of it — things that the girls will remember,” Korby said.

After being bounced from the tournament late on July 21, the team stuck around the following evening to take in a Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF) game between the Smash It Sports Vipers and the USSSA Pride. The matchup featured the most decorated collegiate hitter of all time in Jocelyn Alo of the University of Oklahoma, along with former University of Minnesota Gopher superstar pitcher Amber Fiser.

“The Pride and Vipers game was probably the best (memory) for me because I really like to just see all of these players who are so good and taking it to the highest level,” Johnson said.

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The MN Blast 16U team’s 4-2 finish brings their overall record to 28-7-1 on the season. The talented group will compete in their final tournament of the summer this weekend when they travel to Coon Rapids for the 16U Northern NAFA Nationals, where they hope to be the final team standing among 113 in contention.

MORE FROM JAKE PRZYTARSKI:
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Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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