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Right here, in the exact middle of summer, and high school sports are commanding the Twin Ports sports spotlight. with the climactic week of American Legion baseball already underway, and the best summer tournament for off-season high school hockey going on at Mars-Lakeview Arena this weekend.
American Legion baseball is not exactly high school, but Legion teams are made up of high school players and prospects, and while high school baseball had one of its greatest seasons in Duluth history this spring, thanks to Marshall, Denfeld, and Duluth East, the returnees from those teams are competing in the Minnesota Sub-State 10 Legion Tournament started Wednesday and will decide a champion in Cloquet on Saturday.
Marshall, of course, won the state Class AA championship, under coach Joe Wicklund, and while most of his Hilltoppers are moving on, he is sort of a co-coach of the West Duluth Cubs with Chuck Hagberg, long-time Cubs manager. That works, because the West Duluth Cubs are made up of the joint players from Marshall and Denfeld, which made its first trip in 50 years to the state high school tournament as a Class AAA entry. East also made a serious run at making the state tournament in Class AAAA, losing to top-seeded Blaine in the championship final.
The tournament started with half the teams at Wade Stadium and the other half in Cloquet on Wednesday, and the double-elimination competition will be in Cloquet Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Lakeview enters as favorite, but the Cubs gained a serious measure of proving how ready they are by beating Lakeview in a 10-5 game at Ordean to conclude the regular season. The Cubs jumped ahead 4-0 in the top of the first, as catcher Carter Sullivan, first baseman Alex Busick, and center-fielder Caden Kuusisto each delivered key hits.
Busick and third baseman Tyler Johnson each got three hits in the Cubs offensive outburst, and Sullivan added two. Leading 4-1, pitcher Nate Johnson kept Lakeview off stride through five innings, with a distinctive high-kicking delivery and an assortment of speeds and breaking pitches to supplement a good fastball.
Both teams scored twice in the sixth, and at 6-3, the West Duluth Cubs put it away with four runs in the top of the seventh. Tyler Johnson cleared the bases with an opposite-field triple in the seventh to make it 9-3.
“It was really neat for us to get that 4-run lead in the top of the first,” said Wicklund. “And we got good pitching from Nate Johnson. He’s Denfeld’s No. 1 pitcher, and he’s not only good, he’s really efficient. He threw 65 pitches today, and he just goes out there and throws strikes.”
West Duluth opened against Brainerd, while Lakeview faced Thunder Bay Wednesday, with the winners and losers squaring off immediately afterward at Wade Stadium. At Cloquet, the host team faced Hibbing, while Grand Rapids played Pequot Lakes in the opening round, followed by losers and winners matching up. A full slate of games Thursday for the survivors will be held at Cloquet, with finalists determined Friday and the final Saturday.
LAKEVIEW CLASSIC PUCK
The biggest summer hockey tournament for high school players will conclude the high school league’s allowed summer term this weekend, with a strong field led by Greenway of Coleraine and Hermantown — the teams that fought it out for the Section 7A championship in March.
The tournament opens on Friday with a pair of games. Host Marshall will face Bemidji at 5:30 p.m., and St. Cloud faces Mahtomedi at 7:45 p.m. On Saturday morning, Hermantown will play Brainerd at 8:30 a.m., and Greenway will face Benilde-St. Margaret’s at 10:45 a.m.
That completes the first round, and the semifinals are set for Saturday afternoon, with the first game at 3:15 p.m. and the second pitting the Saturday morning winners at 5:30 p.m. The championship, following a full consolation bracket, will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.