Softball Tournament Earns Place in Spotlight

John Gilbert

 

Hannah Mihalik, Hermantown’s winning pitcher, blasted a first-inning triple to  start the offense on a 13-2 elimination of Denfeld at Braun Park. Photo credit:  John Gilbert
Hannah Mihalik, Hermantown’s winning pitcher, blasted a first-inning triple to start the offense on a 13-2 elimination of Denfeld at Braun Park. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Denfeld sophomore Eleisa Boles delivered a pitch in the 7AAA tournament. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Denfeld sophomore Eleisa Boles delivered a pitch in the 7AAA tournament. Photo credit: John Gilbert

 

Freshman Hanna Hovland hit the ball during Denfeld’s 7AAA 3-2 victory over  Hibbing. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Freshman Hanna Hovland hit the ball during Denfeld’s 7AAA 3-2 victory over Hibbing. Photo credit: John Gilbert

There are so many climactic sports events these days, that it’s entirely possible to pay attention and follow four or five of them, and still miss one or two.
High school and college track meets speed through sectional play or national events and bring together all the top athletes from all parts of the country. It happened for Duluth, too, where UMD’s senior Danielle Kohlway finished third for the second time in a row in the 100-meter hurdles at the NCAA Division III track meet. Kohlway qualified with a 13.40 seconds, and in the final she ran a 13.31 — just 0.05 off her UMD school record. Ryan Steger of St. Scholastica placed ninth in the men’s 800 meter run, with a 1:57.10 clocking, which is very good. But in qualifying he was third with a scintillating 1:51.76, but couldn’t duplicate that third-place performance as he faltered near the end.

With the Stanley Cup Playoff final series just under way, you had to look close to catch the IIHF World Championships, for all nations, who use all their pros who aren’t involved in the Stanley Cup. We don’t know if the St. Louis Blues can match up with the free-wheeling Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup, but we do know the World Championships saw some of the greatest technical hockey and biggest surprises of the entire year.

You remember how Finland won the Women’s World Championship, but then was cheated out of the big trophy after scoring the winning goal in overtime against Team USA, when one referee called a penalty on the U.S., while the other called no goal on the play. So the winning goal was disallowed, and the U.S. won in a shootout, depriving Finland of its first gold medal in women’s hockey.

Well in the men ’s tournament, Canada, Russia and Sweden had won the last seven World Championships, but an amazing team from Finland knocked off Sweden 4-3, then stunned a powerhouse Russian team 1-0 in a spectacular performance, and then beat Canada 3-1 to win the gold. Russia, which had knocked out the U.S., had 212 NHL goals among those on its roster, while Finland had none. Zero. In the final, Canada’s players had accrued 357 NHL goals, while Finland still had — none.

Finland goaltender Kevin Lankinen made 75 saves on the last 76 shots he faced from Russia and Canada. It was a superb performance, and it gave Finland its first hockey gold medal after all. Even though the country should have two, now, just this year.
One of my favorite events to attend every year in the late spring is the Section 7 softball tournament when it gets to the double-elimination portion up at Braun Park in Cloquet. They have four diamonds laid out like a 4-leaf clover, so you can take 10 steps between innings and see another game, and if you keep it up, you might see all four.

The teams already had played earlier qualifying games, so when they got to Braun Park, some teams already faced the double part of double elimination. Cloquet beat Hibbing, 3-2, which was no surprise for the No. 1 seed. Denfeld, with a fun team that can play with anybody, or not, traveled to North Branch and got pasted 10-0. Hermantown beat Granbd Rapids 6-2, and Chisago Lakes beat Princeton 1-0.

Cloquet led 3-0 over defending 7AAA champion North Branch, which caught up 3-2. But Cloquet went to work and won a startling 11-2 game to stay undefeated and eliminate North Branch. Chisago Lakes rallied to hand Hermantown its first loss, 3-2, and Grand Rapids suddenly snapped to life and whipped Princeton 9-5.

Denfeld, meanwhile, had no trouble bouncing back from that 10-0 loss, and whipped Hibbing 9-1 in the turnabout of the tournament. Catcher Lindsey Johnson not only made all the plays behind the plate, she went 5-for-5 batting. She’s only a sophomore, and I asked her after the game what she’d had for breakfast.

“Peanut butter toast,” she said.

“You must not have had that the other day, when you lost 10-0 at North Branch,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I was 2-for-3 in that game.”

    Properly put in my place, I checked. Sure enough, the Hunters had only two hits at North Branch, and Johnson had both of them, meaning she was 7-for-8 in the two tournament games.
That meant the Hunters had to come right back and take on Hermantown in a game between two teams trying to stave off elimination. But Hermantown was clicking, with Hannah Mihalik throwing a 4-hitter and adding a first-inning triple to start the Hawks toward a 13-2 victory that ended Denfeld’s season and sent the Hawks on the road to Chisago Lakes Tuesday to try to keep going. Johnson, by the way, did have a hit off Mihalik in the game, which was shortened to five innings.

Cloquet’s romp over North Branch meant they advanced to face Chisago Lakes in a battle of the only two remaining unbeaten teams. Cloquet beat Chisago Lakes 3-1 Tuesday, while Grand Rapids ended Hermantown’s season with an 8-5 triumph, and the Thunderhawks had to hope they didn’t find their offense too late.

Maybe it’s because these girls all play hard all season, then end up on summer teams with and against each other, but their games could serve as a good example for boys who have intense rivalries, because these girls are amiable even during games, and seem to carry no bitterness off the field at the end of their games.