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Summer baseball beginning to pick up speed

With a roster of 18 players, Cloquet American Legion baseball Coach Steve Johnson doesn't have the easiest job. However, his teenagers in purple and white have been finding a way to get the job done lately, just like they did Tuesday night at Ed ...

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Gavin Takkunen of Cloquet (24) is congratulated by his teammates after hitting a home run during Tuesday night’s game against the Post 71 Cubs from West Duluth. Dan Saletel/Pine Journal
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With a roster of 18 players, Cloquet American Legion baseball Coach Steve Johnson doesn’t have the easiest job.

However, his teenagers in purple and white have been finding a way to get the job done lately, just like they did Tuesday night at Ed Mettner Field.

Jeremy Bushey knocked in teammate Trent Anderson on a bases-loaded, full-count pitch that the senior hit up the middle to lead Cloquet Post 262 to a 4-3 win over West Duluth. The one-run victory - which sent elated Cloquet players soaring out of their dugout for high-fives and cheers around home plate afterward - was a fun contest to watch.

That was the scene all spring for Cloquet’s varsity baseball team, which counted 18 wins and finished as the Class AA consolation champions in mid-June. Although the summer season hasn’t been off to the fastest start - just three wins in six games - Cloquet, a Division I program, is confident and nowhere short of talent.

Of the 18 players, St. Scholastica-bound Brandon Conklin and Gavin Takkunen - who had a homer and a triple Tuesday - head the charge as the only graduates on the roster. Adding to their depth, Johnson said, is his son, Jake, a junior, along with classmates Alec Norrgard, Joe Backus and Blayde Rasmusson. Seniors Bushey, Anderson, Austin Parenteau, Chandler Dilday and Gabe Sorenson also help and are baseball veterans.

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“We have a good group of kids coming up here,” said Jake Johnson, a right-handed pitcher, who enjoys playing for his father. “Everyone really stays positive and works hard.”

Johnson isn’t the only coach’s kid on the team. Norrgard, whose dad, Rick, is the head coach for the high school varsity, takes the role as bench coach in the summer.

Alec Norrgard, a quiet but effective catcher, admitted he doesn’t talk to his dad much at games, but likes his presence.

“I don’t mind it. It’s a lot of fun to have him around,” he said. “I’m used to it - he’s coached me my whole life.”

The elder Johnson, who played on Cloquet’s 1975 state tournament team and witnessed both its 2010 and 2015 runs to state, is proud of the program and where it’s headed to.

He said the goal of the summertime - which is always more laid-back than the high school season - is to prepare the kids with the confidence they need entering next spring.

“We’re teaching them to remove the stress and to deal with the pressure,” he said. “We want them to want the ball.”

Again a tough job, but one his 18 players are ready for.

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LEGION NOTES:

Along with Cloquet Post 262, other area American Legion teams include Brookston Post 562, Esko Post 262 and the Moose Lake Division (which is combined with Willow River and Barnum). All three programs play at the Division II level within District 8 and continue games throughout the summer. Postseason play, for both divisions, begins in late July.

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