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Cloquet brings pitching, power into season

Last season, the Cloquet girls softball team got over a big hurdle by winning in the first round of the Section 7AAA tournament. Next, the 'Jacks nearly pulled off the impossible by taking Chisago Lakes, the section's top seed, into extra innings before losing to the team that eventually ended as runner-up in the state tournament.

"We beat Hibbing after they had eliminated us the year before, so that was big for this group of girls," said Cloquet coach Tyler Korby. "After we lost to Chisago, we were eliminated by a very good Grand Rapids team, but this team really learned from that. We are ready for this season."

Cloquet opened the season April 9 by pounding out four home runs in a 12-2 rout of Duluth East. The game included a rare feat: hitting back-to-back-to back home runs in the bottom of the first inning.

"I don't remember anything like that ever happening before," Korby said. "We have a really good mix of power and speed this season. Everyone knows I like to play small ball, but with the team we have, we do have the ability to play long ball if we have to."

Blythe Proulx had two homers against the Greyhounds, while Allie Jones and Josie Lindstrom also hit homers against East. Madison Erickson hit the game-ending two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning for Cloquet.

Key to Cloquet's success this season figures to be Jones. The junior pitcher is back for her third season as the full-time starter.

"Allis is getting better every day," Korby said. "She lives on the corners, she avoids walks, she changes speeds and has a lot of confidence. We will really rely on her in the circle."

After graduating six seniors - not all starters - the 'Jacks still have plenty of returning players who saw a great deal of playing time. Junior Morgan Olesiak will patrol centerfield, while senior Carly Johnson will anchor the shortstop position. Senior Blythe Proulx will be back again in right field. Joining that group are juniors Ella Maslowski at first base, Josie Lindstrom at second, and Paige Goranson at starting catcher. Sophomore Rylie Goranson will see time at third while seniors Aydann Pollard will be a utility player both in the outfield and infield and Brooke Proulx will be the team's designated hitter.

On Monday night, the 'Jacks fell 3-0 in a pitchers' dual against Hibbing, the team Cloquet defeated last year in the opening round of the playoffs.

If Cloquet is going to make a run to the state tournament this season, it will have to earn it. Section 7AAA may be the deepest section in the state. Chisago Lakes returns as the runner-up in the state tournament while perennial powers Hermantown, North Branch and Grand Rapids are also 7AAA. An added hurdle this year will be Rock Ridge, which moves into the section after the combining of former Section 7AA teams Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert.

"It is really a tough section," Korby said. "This group loves to play, they are fun to work with, they show up and they go to work every day. We all know how close we were last year when we got beat by Chisago Lakes. That is something that is driving us to take that next step."

The Lumberjacks were scheduled to play at Hermantown at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, after this issue of the Pine Knot News went to press. They play the Rebels at Willow River 4:30 p.m. Monday in what promises to be a good game.