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Howie Hanson: Ice put winning streak on the line next weekend

Minnesota Ice will put its 60-some game Lake Superior Classic girl's fastpitch tournament winning streak on the line next weekend at Wheeler Fields. The Ice (formerly Esko Ice) had won the U-18 championship for the first six seasons of the tourna...

Minnesota Ice will put its 60-some game Lake Superior Classic girl's fastpitch tournament winning streak on the line next weekend at Wheeler Fields.

The Ice (formerly Esko Ice) had won the U-18 championship for the first six seasons of the tournament, but they didn't field a team last summer. The Duluth Toons won the tourney a year ago, snapping the Ice's title streak.

But the Ice are back in full force in 2004 and fully expect to keep their Classic game winning streak alive.

"Roger (Plachta, Ice coach) joked of the streak earlier this week, saying, 'No pressure,'" Ice star second baseman Anna Bjorlin of Hermantown said Thursday. "We're a laid back team, but there's a lot of pressure, actually."

The Classic is Duluth's best girl's fastpitch summer tournament, a northern showcase for many of Minnesota's top players including local stars. Twelve teams will compete in the U-18 division, and 16 in U-16. Pool play begins at 9 a.m. Saturday. Championship games, using the four backstop-to-backstop fields at Wheeler, will begin at 4 p.m. Sunday.

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Classic director Mike Sylvester, arguably the region's top authority for girl's fastpitch, has tabbed the Ice the pre-tourney favorite.

"But the Ice will see some stiff competition this year," he said.

The Ice (3-0) played in their first tournament of the summer this weekend in Mankato. They also compete in the local Lake Superior Fastpitch League, where they are heavy favorites to win the league title.

The Ice feature outstanding pitching, led by Brittany Nelson of Duluth East and Nichole Tessier of Hermantown, and solid performers throughout the starting lineup. Catcher Fiona Lodge of Duluth East is one of the best players in the state at her position. And shortstop Whitney Olson of Proctor and left fielder Val Hartel are big-time players.

Plachta also coaches softball at Wisconsin-Superior. Coaching the Ice gives him an advantage over Minnesota Duluth and St. Scholastica in recruiting the area's top players.

Between the lines

Rick Rickert and Cici Anderson will be married next Saturday in Minneapolis.

"They're expecting about 250 to 300 people," Rickert's mother, Sue, said of the wedding. "Cici is very nice and sweet, and we really like her. It looks like they might delay the honeymoon a bit as Rick continues to get ready for a summer season preparing for the Wolves' training camp.

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  • Duluth-Superior Shoremen coach Terry Fawcett is not surprised by his team's 4-0 start, especially since the Great Plains Football League expansion team had such a strong recruiting year.

"I knew we had some athletes on the team," Fawcett said. "What I find the most surprising is the level of cohesiveness from the team. They really enjoy one another and that helps. They pick each other up and that helps when they have to make a play."
The Shoremen played at Alexandria on Saturday.

"I told our guys we were born in diapers, but the kids from Alexandria were born in football girdles," Fawcett said. "These guys have played together their whole lives and that benefits them."

  • As expected, center fielder Chris Siljendahl and pitcher Josh Gow had strong senior seasons for Duluth East. Siljendahl, who's headed to Bemidji State in the fall to play football and baseball, was hitting .500 prior to state tournament play Thursday, according to statistics published in Thursday's Duluth News Tribune. Gow, who's headed to Iowa Northwestern Junior College to play baseball, was 7-3 with a 1.8 ERA heading to state.

Howie Hanson, the dean of area sportswriters, pens a weekly column for the Budgeteer News. He can be reached at 624-7495 or by e-mail at Duluth@aol.com .

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