A hometown newspaper with a local office, local owners & lots of local news

Lumberjacks' section loss is extra painful

Cloquet plays top seed tough in nine-inning game

After notching a first-round win in the Section 7AAA softball playoffs, the Lumberjacks were knocked out of the playoffs Saturday with back-to-back losses at home.

No. 5 seed Cloquet opened with an impressive 3-1 win over Hibbing, the No. 4 seed, on the road last Wednesday. On Saturday, the 'Jacks entered the double-elimination round at home and fell to the No. 1 seed Chisago Lakes 4-3 in nine innings, then dropped a 12-4 decision to Grand Rapids, the No. 6 seed.

In the 'Jacks opening road win against Hibbing, Cloquet's leadoff batter Morgan Olesiak scored to give Cloquet a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

"Morgan got hit by a pitch, we bunted her to second and she went to third on a wild pitch," said Cloquet coach Tyler Korby. "She ended up scoring on a groundout, and that was big to get the lead because Hibbing is a good ball club and they had knocked us out of the playoffs the last two years."

The Bluejackets squared things up at 1-1 in the bottom of third inning, but the Lumberjacks answered back in the top of the seventh inning. That's when Brooke Proulx hit a ball that was dropped, allowing Allie Jones to score all the way from second to make it 2-1. For good measure, the 'Jacks tacked on another run when Olesiak singled-in runner Araya Kiminski, who came on to run for Proulx and pushed the lead to 3-1.

In the bottom of the seventh the Bluejackets threatened, but Jones - who threw a three-hitter for Cloquet - was able to work out of trouble to secure the win against a team that had beaten the 'Jacks in the last two years in the opening round.

On Saturday, Cloquet played at home in the double-elimination round. They started by taking on No. 1 Seed Chisago Lakes, a team that finished third in the state tournament the previous year. The Wildcats came in with a gaudy 16-4 record, but the Lumberjacks gave them all they could handle before succumbing 4-3 in extra innings.

"It was quite the game with a lot of fans and other teams watching the finish of the game," said Korby. "It was a pretty impressive effort by our girls. Win, lose, or draw, we played the game we wanted to be played. It is a big step forward for our program to take a powerhouse team like that to the limit."

Trailing 2-0 entering the top of the fourth inning, the Lumberjacks scored a pair of runs on a double by pitcher Allie Jones, who went 4-for-4 at the plate. The Wildcats went up 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth, but the Lumberjacks again tied the game in the top of the seventh when Jones led off with a triple and then courtesy runner Kiminski scored on a sacrifice fly by Lexi Goranson.

"Jones had a great game for us," Korby said. "She was great at the plate and she pitched a heck of a game against an amazing lineup. Their top four hitters went 0-for-16 against her, and that is a great hitting team and one of the best teams in the state."

The game stayed even until the bottom of the ninth, when a wild pitch allowed the Wildcats to score the winning run from third base to take the win 4-3. Cloquet committed five errors in the game as Jones gave up just two earned runs on six hits.

The loss set up a do-or-die game against Grand Rapids, the No. 6 seed. Cloquet took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, but Grand Rapids exploded in the second inning. The Thunderhawks parlayed the 12-run inning into a hole that the 'Jacks could not crawl out of as the score remained 11-2 through four innings.

In the fifth, the Lumberjacks bounced back with a pair of runs again to narrow the game to 11-4. Grand Rapids scored a lone run in the top of the seventh inning for the final of 12-4.

"We had the wind taken out of our sails a bit after the loss to Chisago Lakes," Korby said. "It was a quick turnaround and the previous game took its toll on the mental part of the game. But give Grand Rapids credit, they just played a better game than we did."

Offensively, Cloquet finished with five hits. Carly Johnson was the lone Cloquet player with multiple hits as she went 2-for-4.

Jones gave up six hits and eight earned runs, while Ella Maslowski gave up three earned runs and Rylie Goranson gave up a single earned run in the game.

The loss ended the season for the 'Jacks, who finished with a record of 12-11.

"We really played some good ball against what I think is by far the best AAA section in the state," said Korby. "It is a gauntlet when you play in our section: Chisago Lakes, North Branch, Hermantown, Hibbing, Grand Rapids, and the list continues."

Now that the Lumberjacks have taken the next step of getting into the double-elimination round, Korby believes they will make even bigger strides next season.

"I challenged them to be tougher this year, and they were," said Korby. "We as coaches expect a lot of them, and it hurts to be done, but with the way everyone was watching the way we can play in that Chisago Lakes game proves that we can take the next step. I hope the girls take a lot away from that."

Cloquet graduates seven seniors: Roena Diver, Jordyn Sorenson, Lexi Goranson, Araya Kiminski, Ashley Austin, Liliana Braveheart and student manager Macie Majerle.