The sun beat down on Cloquet’s Braun Park July 11, but each of the park’s four softball fields came alive with players from across the region competing for a tournament title.

The Minnesota Blast summer softball program hosted the U.S. Specialty Sports Association Fastpitch Northern State Tournament with its 18U, 16U and 14U teams all winning gold. It was the 18U team’s third straight win at the event, according to club director Tyler Korby.

Blast teams have also won tournaments in Fargo and at Mankato’s Caswell Park, where the Minnesota state softball tournament is held each June.

On Tuesday, June 20, the Blast’s 18U and 15U teams each won their opening games during a tournament at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria, Illinois. The complex features 10 turf softball fields, Korby said, and is one of the premiere venues in the Midwest.

Amber Carblom of the Minnesota Blast 18U team pitches the ball during a game on Sunday, July 11, 2021, at Braun Park in Cloquet. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Amber Carblom of the Minnesota Blast 18U team pitches the ball during a game on Sunday, July 11, 2021, at Braun Park in Cloquet. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It’s like a softball Mecca.”

Korby’s Blast program has 63 players this summer that hail from across the region. Some of the players Korby coaches on the Cloquet team in the spring are in the program, but it also features players from Esko, Barnum and as far away as Hibbing and Coleraine.

The elite venues and competitions are a benefit to the players, according to Korby.

“It’s another step of the game to get the girls to see how high the game can be played at,” he said. “At these parks we go to, we see the best of the best. They’ll get to see high quality pitching and game play. That’s what you need to see in the summers — you need to see pitches and get in the box, get reps and play against teams that are going to push and challenge you to get better.”

The tournament wins are nice, but improvement is the name of the game for Blast players.

Mendota Castonguay, a pitcher on a Barnum team that made a surprising run to the Section 7A championship game last month, said the Blast has given her a chance to work on other skills besides pitching this summer.

Minnesota Storm 18U player Mendota Castonguay hits the ball during a game on Sunday, July 11, 2021, at Braun Park in Cloquet. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Storm 18U player Mendota Castonguay hits the ball during a game on Sunday, July 11, 2021, at Braun Park in Cloquet. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

“I’m definitely getting a lot more at-bat experience,” Castonguay said. “I’ve also gotten a chance to play other positions, not just pitcher like I do for my school team. I’ve definitely gotten better at covering bunts and whatnot.”

Castonguay believes that the work she is putting in with the Blast and a second summer league team in Barnum will pay dividends when the Bombers take the field next spring and try to move past the Section 7A title game and on to the state tournament.

Korby said the commitment displayed by Blast players showing up to practices and tournaments will pay off down the road, whether on the softball field or in the relationships they build that could last even longer.

“Mendota is a great example of a kid who would play ball day, night or whenever,” Korby said. “She just really adores the game, and it’s great to see her and so many other kids continue to build their skills and create friendships over the summertime.”