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For 'Jacks, experience where it counts

The Cloquet Lumberjacks softball team is looking to take another step this spring. The 'Jacks finished with a 13-7 record, but for the second straight year were beaten in the

Saturday round of the playoffs by Hibbing.

"We have a lot of kids who play a lot of softball and who adore the game," said 'Jacks head coach Tyler Korby. "It will be a tough section again this year, but our girls are up to the task."

Cloquet will have some tough shoes to fill, with the loss of five seniors from last year's squad, including four starters. However, the cupboard is not bare, as the Lumberjacks return five starters this year. Returning will be senior captains Roena Diver, Lexi Goranson and Jordyn Sorenson. Diver plays shortstop, Goranson is back at catcher and Sorenson plays first base. Also back is junior starting outfielder Carly Johnson and sophomore starting pitcher Allie Jones. Not only do the 'Jacks return those five starters, but also a number of other players who saw playing time who will now step into full-time starting roles.

Minnesota Breakdown Sports, a magazine which tracks top players in the state, has named a number of 'Jacks in its preseason publication. Diver is noted as one of the top 100 seniors for this upcoming season, while both Johnson and Blythe Proulx are in the top 75 juniors. Jones was announced as one of the Elite 35 underclassmen in the state as well.

"We have a good, well-rounded bunch of athletes," said Korby. "We have great team speed and the girls seem to be willing to accept the challenge and want to get better."

Offensively, the Lumberjacks have some exciting players they can rely on to put runs on the board.

"We have a good mix of players who can hit for average and power and the speed we have is fun to coach," Korby said. "We also have five or six kids who can hit the ball out of the park, so we have a good combination."

Jones will carry the bulk of the innings most likely again this season after having a strong freshman campaign. Last season, Jones threw 113 innings with an earned run average of 3.35. Opponents batted just .239 off of Jones. Those were strong numbers for a freshman.

"Allie stepped up and took a big step forward," said Korby. "She threw a ton of innings as a ninth-grader last year and wants to get better. She is our starter and will only get better. She is our ace."

Joining Jones on the pitching staff will be sophomore Ella Maslowski, freshman Rylie Goranson and eighth-grader Ella Anderson.

Cloquet will be strong up the middle with Goranson behind the plate, Jones pitching and Diver at shortstop. Rounding out the middle of the 'Jacks defense will be senior Araya Kiminski and Johnson. Either Kiminski or Johnson will start at second base with the other starting in centerfield.

"Both Araya and Carly are strong players, and right now we are just trying to figure out which one will be at second and which of those two will be in center," Korby said.

Cloquet will face a section which includes Chisago Lakes, a team that took third in the state last season; perennial powers Hermantown and North Branch, as well as upstart Hibbing, are also part of the mix. All of those teams return their top pitchers from a year ago.

The Lumberjacks last played in the state tournament in 2019 when they finished in third place; since then, there was the Covid year of 2020, followed by tough losses to a good Hibbing team the last two seasons. If the 'Jacks get to the state tournament it will be a great feat, as Section 7AAA is among the toughest sections from top to bottom in the state.

"We expect the section to be a tough and deep section," said Korby. "I believe in this group. We have five things we focus on, and if we do those five things well we will be in every game. We focus on bunting, defending the bunt, making routine plays, throwing strikes and running the bases well."

With the depth of this year's team the Lumberjacks could very well surprise and make a deep run into the playoffs later this spring.