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Last inning dooms Cloquet in district finals

If baseball games lasted five innings, the Cloquet American Legion team might be playing in the state tournament this weekend.

But at this level, they go seven innings, and it was the last inning that doomed Cloquet in the District 10 finals Saturday, July 28, in Grand Rapids.

Starting pitcher Gavin Rasmussen had allowed only one run through six innings in the championship game against Brainerd — but then reached his pitch count and had to be removed from the game by rule.

Cloquet had no more experienced pitchers left, and Bemidji scored nine runs in the last of the sixth to win 10-0 by the 10-run rule.

"We just ran out of arms," coach Bruce Baker said. "We had two VFW kids left to pitch and nothing against either of them. The wheels came off."

Bemidji scored nine runs on nine hits in the fateful frame, making a winning pitcher out of McCale Peterson, who held Cloquet to two hits and a walk in six innings of shutout work. He also had three hits to help his own cause at the plate.

Cloquet beat Bemidji 3-2 on Friday, July 27, in 11 innings, forcing Saturday's deciding game.

"That was a very good ballgame," Baker said. "It was really one of the best games at this level I've ever been a part of."

Jon Baker started for Cloquet on the mound and worked seven innings before giving way to Noah Witte, who pitched the last four. The two pitchers held Bemidji to only four hits in 11 innings of work.

In the 11th inning, Nick Baker and Noah Niemi led off with walks and Witte hit a flare to left field that fell just in front of the diving fielder, with Baker scoring. Then Witte had to go out and shut down Bemidji in the last of the 11th.

"That was a little nerve-wracking," Baker said. "With everything that happened in that game, you just waited for something else. There were diving catches on both sides, double plays on both sides. It was just a great game."

Cloquet, after losing its opening game against Hibbing, couldn't afford to lose again and earlier Friday, eliminated the West Duluth Cubs 8-2 to earn the right to face Bemidji.

Parker Lundberg made his first start of the season for Cloquet on the mound and worked seven strong innings, backed up by 13 hits from his teammates.

"Parker gave us what we needed, which was a well-pitched game," Baker said. "Hats off to him."

Cooper Grashorn and Rasmussen were each three for four in the game with Nick Baker and Witte also picking up two hits apiece.

But the offensive magic wasn't there in the finals and the team's season ended one game short of state.

"I'm satisfied," Baker said. "The kids gave all they had. Getting to the final is about all you can ask for in a tournament like that. They lose their first game and have to win four to get to the championship, that speaks well of their character."

Now Baker says goodbye to five seniors who he's coached since they were 9 years old.

"These kids have been good at everything they've tried," he said. "I choked up talking to Cooper and Tim (Pokornowski) a little bit. Noah, Adam (Luing), Parker (Lundberg) — they're just a good group of kids.

Baker also spoke well of the seniors' personal discipline.

"They keep themselves in check," he said. "I'd be talking or trying to teach something and someone would be messing around in the back, but it wasn't me that was barking at them to listen. It was their teammates. That bodes well for them."

Esko falls to Pierz at Substate

Esko's season came to an end as well in the Northeast Substate tournament at Ely.

On Friday, July 27, Esko defeated Proctor 6-5 in early play and then beat the host team 8-2 later in the day, eliminating both teams. That put Esko into the losers' bracket final.

On Saturday, July 28, though, Esko lost 10-1 to Pierz, ending their season. Pierz went on to fall 5-4 to Wadena in the title game.

Esko coach Jim Karnis could not be reached for comment by press time.