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Thunder continues to play with mixed results

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College will host the state community college softball tournament in May. For now, the Thunder are trying to earn the right to play in it.

Ariel Morris
After making a diving stop, Thunder shortstop Ariel Morris (left) of AlBrook shovels the ball to Rachel Sanda of Cloquet to force out Northland Community College's Hailey Peterson during the second game of a double header Saturday. Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College swept Northland 9-5 and 11-4. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College will host the state community college softball tournament in May. For now, the Thunder are trying to earn the right to play in it.

On Monday, the Thunder split a doubleheader with Rainy River to bring its record to 7-7 on the season - but 4-2 in its league.

That's good for second place in the state's northern division.

"In league play we're doing well," coach Kerry Rodd said. "However, some of our losses have been of the devastating type, where we led late and gave up a lead. That's one sign of a young team that has to mature."

Of the 14 players on the team roster, nine are first-year college players.

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"We have time to mature, but the hard thing is that it can't take too much time," Rodd said. "We have to work through it before the season ends at the end of April."

Against Rainy River, FDLTCC couldn't hold a lead in the opening game and fell 9-6. McGregor's Casey Pierce had two hits, while Cloquet's Rachel Sanda and Duluth Central's Lisa Muehlberger each drove in a pair of runs. Moose Lake-Willow River's Katie Youngberg pitched and took the loss.

In game two, Kassi Neary of Hill City pitched the Thunder to a 9-7 win.

Hermantown's Anna Engelmeier had two hits and scored a pair of runs, and AlBrook's Ariel Morris had three hits in three at-bats while driving in a pair of runs. Carlton's Holly Nelson also had two RBIs for the Thunder.

The team's success in league play gives Rodd reason for optimism.

"We're in the hunt to finish in the top four, which is what we need to do to get to state," he said.

To cement a top-four spot, the Thunder have to do some of the small things better than they have done early in the year.

"Defensively we're solid, but our pitchers need to get the ball over the plate earlier in the count," he said. "We're struggling to get ahead of hitters and they can sit on fastballs when we have to get it over the plate. So that has been an issue."

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Rodd is assisted by longtime Cloquet baseball coach Steve Jezierski, along with Nick Giddings, Steph Engelmeier and several others.

"It's nice to have someone with the depth of knowledge Steve has," Rodd said. "He works with the defense. Nick is good at questioning why we do things. He's more of a risk taker as far as how he observes the game. Sometimes you need that."

Rodd's young players have also put forth a terrific amount of effort early in the season.

"It has been unbelievable," he said. "I think we put in more work than any other team in our league. That doesn't guarantee more wins, but they have put out the effort and we are so much better than we were on the first day, both individually and as a group. We demand a lot from them for this level and they have responded."

The Thunder played Mesabi Range in a doubleheader Wednesday - as the Pine Journal went to press - before a showdown with conference-leading Itasca on Saturday at Braun Park. The first pitch of that doubleheader will be at

1 p.m.

Related Topics: SOFTBALL
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