Cloquet fizzles after strong start at state baseball tourney
ST. CLOUD -- As if the prospect of trying to dethrone unbeaten, top-seeded and defending state champion St. Cloud Cathedral wasn't enough, Cloquet also was bit by the bad-luck bug in a Class AA high school baseball quarterfinal Thursday morning a...
ST. CLOUD - As if the prospect of trying to dethrone unbeaten, top-seeded and defending state champion St. Cloud Cathedral wasn’t enough, Cloquet also was bit by the bad-luck bug in a Class AA high school baseball quarterfinal Thursday morning at overcast Dick Putz Field.
Gently tapped but fortuitously placed base hits instigated both of the Crusaders’ big innings - matching five-spots in the second and fourth - that sent the Lumberjacks to a 12-4 defeat and into the consolation bracket.
“Kind of got lucky, but they put the ball in play and that’s how they won the game,” said Cloquet senior Brandon Conklin, who was behind the plate instead of on the mound Thursday.
Conklin and his teammates came out swinging. They used three consecutive one-out singles and a pair of wild pitches from Cathedral starter Dominic Austing to pull ahead 2-0 in the top of the first.
That’s where it stood until the Crusaders (23-0) opened the bottom of the second with five straight hits. Three were infield singles, including Bryant Bohlig’s swinging bunt down the third-base line. Jack Schramel started the outburst with a slicing double to left field and Austing capped it by driving in two runs with a single to right.
A similar story unraveled in the fourth. Jake Spaniol led off with Cathedral’s fourth infield bleeder and, with one out, Austing sent a soft floater to shallow left to start the big inning. When it was over, after Schramel and Nathan Giambruno produced back-to-back two-RBI hits, the Crusaders’ cushion had ballooned to 10-2.
“That’s baseball,” Cloquet coach Rick Norrgard said after addressing his team outside the stadium. “When things start to go bad, it compounds itself. Things start to go good for them and they keep going good, and that’s just the way it worked today.”
Norrgard, quick to credit Cathedral, then admitted, “But they’re a good team.”
Austing is part of the Crusaders’ vaunted collection of live arms. The senior right-hander came in with a 7-0 record and a 1.45 ERA. When he ran into control problems in the fifth, in came fellow senior Tommy Auger and his 6-0 record and 1.06 ERA.
Backed by an offense that rapped out 14 hits, the duo had plenty of breathing room.
Cloquet (16-5) meets Glencoe-Silver Lake at 10 a.m. today at Joe Faber Field - home of the Northwoods League’s St. Cloud Rox and also the Crusaders’ primary ballpark. Cathedral plays Marshall at noon with a spot in Monday’s title game at Target Field up for grabs.
This is the Crusaders’ fifth straight state tournament. Regardless, it never gets old. They were just as thrilled to be playing Thursday as their opponent.
“It’s still pretty exciting to be here,” said Schramel, a junior shortstop who finished with two doubles, two RBIs and three runs. “We had to come out and play our best baseball right from the beginning.”
Said Cathedral coach Bob Karn, the state’s all-time prep baseball wins leader with 734: “Well everything’s new when you play in a state tournament game, and you have to be careful not to take anything for granted.”
Karn should know - he owns eight championship trophies.
About the same time the clouds gave way to flashes of sun, the Lumberjacks loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth. Gavin Takkunen’s run-scoring single made it 10-3 and chased Austing, and suddenly Cloquet was making some noise. But the Lumberjacks, who stranded nine baserunners, managed just one more run, wasting their best - and last - chance at a big number.
“We’re thinking if we can just get a few more here and put up a crooked number, maybe we can crawl back in this thing and give us a little momentum,” Norrgard said.
Takkunen, who took the pitching loss, finished with three of Cloquet’s eight hits. Conklin added two.
Defensively, Mason Brenner turned in a handful of slick plays at third base. Two came during Cathedral’s five-run second, meaning the damage could have been far worse.
Austing earned the win with four-plus serviceable innings. He scattered seven hits and allowed four runs.
Class AA Quarterfinals
St. Cloud Cathedral 12, Cloquet 4
At St. Cloud. WP: Dominic Austing 4IP, 7H, 4R, 4K, 3BB, 1HBP. LP: Gavin Takkunen 2IP, 7H, 5R, 1K, 0BB. SCC (23-0): Austing 2x3, 2RBIs, R; Jack Schramel 2x3 (2 2B), 2RBIs, 3R; Nathan Giambruno 3x4, 2RBIs, R; Jacob Gross 1x1 (2B), RBI; Jake Spaniol 2x3, RBI, 3R. C (16-5): Brandon Conklin 2x3, R; Takkunen 3x3.