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SUMMER SOFTBALL: Local softball teams head to nationals

Two Cloquet youth softball teams are headed to North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) national tournament events this weekend. The U-13 Minnesota Blast, who are 22-16 on their season, will take part in the U-14 Northern Nationals event held ...

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Rosalie Lundquist drives in a run for the Minnesota Blast U-16 team against Duluth East during the USSSA State Tournament at Braun Park earlier this month. The U-16 Blast, are taking part in the national U-16 North American Fastpitch Association event this weekend, which will be held in Shoreview, Minn. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com

Two Cloquet youth softball teams are headed to North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) national tournament events this weekend.

The U-13 Minnesota Blast, who are 22-16 on their season, will take part in the U-14 Northern Nationals event held in Eden Prairie from Thursday through Sunday.

The U-16 Blast, coached by Steve Martin, are taking part in the U-16 NAFA event this weekend, which will be held in Shoreview.

The 16s played a .500 season in the Lake Superior Fast Pitch league this summer and the 13s finished second out of 19 teams overall to earn a spot in the Gold Division for playoffs.

The team won’t take part in the league event, though, since the national event in Eden Prairie falls at the same time.

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“They didn’t really mind that,” Coach Tyler Korby said. “They couldn’t do both and this is an opportunity to give them an experience at a different level. It’s a cool experience to give our girls.”

It will be the first trip to a major event for the 13s, and it’s showing on their faces.

“They’ve been all smiles from ear to ear this week,” Korby said. “We have big plans to have fun on the field and off the field, to play basketball and volleyball and do all the things kids do at these events.”

That also includes pin trading, which has proven to be a big hit with the players.

“The girls have been waiting all year, and all 14 of our players are beyond excited,” Korby said. “They spent part of the week figuring out who was going to get what pin and what we would do for gift exchanges (between teams and team members).”

The greater idea, though, is to give the players experience against a wider variety of competition.

“They’re going to get a taste of real competitive softball,” Korby said. “There are teams from all across the Midwest coming to this tournament instead of just the local league teams. This will open their eyes.”

Both the U-13 and U-16 teams were extensively involved in fundraising for the event.

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“They did all sorts of stuff,” Korby said. “They did a meat wagon, Subway cards, car washes, everything under the sun. And they raised the money.”

One thing that didn’t happen, though, involved their coach’s hair. Last summer, Korby offered to shave his head if the players met their fundraising goal. This year, the coach isn’t folically-challenged.

“I did tell them to keep the clippers away,” he said. “Last year was a fun experience and if they had wanted to, I’d have done it again, but I’m glad I’ve still got my hair!”

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