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'Jacks rack up 10-4 record

Esko's Emilee Wilson throws a pitch during the Thursday, May 3, softball game vs. Cloquet. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 3
Cloquet's Josie Steen throws a pitch in relief. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 3
Esko's Miranda Kelley slides in head first ahead of the tag of Cloquet's Kiana Bender during the teams' softball game in Esko on Thursday, May 3. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal3 / 3

You'd think that playing five games in five days would tire a team out. Not so in Cloquet, where the Lumberjacks ran the table at the end of April.

Cloquet beat Hibbing, Bemidji, Duluth East, Grand Rapids and Hermantown on successive days on the way to building a 10-4 record in a frantically shortened regular season.

"We've played pretty well," coach Ron Tondryk said. "We have work to do but the results have been good."

Included in their 10 wins was a 10-7 triumph at previously unbeaten Esko on May 3 in which the Lumberjacks scored six runs in the seventh inning off Esko star pitcher Emilee Wilson.

"What a good team Esko is, and to win there when they were unbeaten (Esko is 10-1 after beating Carlton 12-2 on Tuesday, with Wilson fanning 14 Bulldogs) is a real feather in our caps," Tondryk said. "Everyone knows how good a pitcher Emilee Wilson is, and it just adds to the accomplishment."

But there have been setbacks. Cloquet lost 12-1 to a powerful Superior team in six innings on Tuesday. Mady Stariha stifled the Lumberjacks on six hits with 11 strikeouts for Superior, with Shelby Pell and Kiana Bender picking up two hits apiece.

The team also lost 5-2 to Eveleth-Gilbert on April 30, a game Tondryk said was winnable.

"We should not have lost that game but we did," he said. "It's about what we are telling the girls — you have to concentrate every single inning, every single pitch. When they do that, we get results like we did against Ashland (a 15-0 win May 1) and Marshall (an 18-0 win the next day). They can definitely do it."

Cloquet has won games with overwhelming offense as well as with pitching. Sophomore Lucy Sinkkonen has nearly 70 strikeouts on the mound and Cloquet is hitting a mind-bending .396 as a team.

"Everyone's been going great," Tondryk said. "Our team on-base percentage has been close to .600."

Key to that success has been eighth-grader Dana Jones, who was hitting .706 after the first week of the season but has "cooled off" to merely .500 while hitting from the leadoff position.

"We've had a lot of pleasant surprises," Tondryk said. "Brenna McClarey came in as a freshman and caught seven games for us when Allie Wojtysiak was out. Dana Jones has been hitting. Lucy has been pitching very well. We have a lot to smile about."

Too, the team approach to the game is paying big dividends.

"We aren't striking out as much and players are coming to the plate with a plan for each at-bat," Tondryk said. "That's what we've been preaching and the girls are buying into it."

Tondryk is also satisfied with the team's defense, which has been remarkably good considering the team has only had three outdoor practices all season.

"We seem to be doing small things well," he said. Cloquet has held its opposition to two or fewer runs in seven of its 14 games to date, with four shutouts.

The team has five regular-season games remaining. A doubleheader against Princeton and North Branch is on tap for May 11, with Proctor on May 15, Denfeld on May 18 and Grand Rapids on May 26 rounding out the schedule before playoffs begin.