Time That Was
Boys Baseball team: Row 1: N. Peterson, J.Malec, M. Downs, J.Kuzas. Row 2: S. Pionk, M. Woods, R. Nelson, S. Lockwook, Row 3:
C. Flynn, D. Norton, B. Richardson,M. Blackburn.
On May 17, 1979, Proctor beat Duluth Central, 6-5, in the last game of the regular season. Little did the Rails know that it would be the start of a remarkable record—22 consecutive Lake Superior Conference (LSC) wins.
Despite erasing a 13-run Central lead, they then lost a wild first-round playoff game to the Trojans, 16-13, to conclude the ‘79 season. It was the first year that they did not win their sub-region and advance to the four-team Region 7AA tournament since the two-tier playoffs format was established in 1976.
The 1980 team rebounded in a big way. They went 9-0 in conference play and were sub-region champions once again, despite not playing any games at Proctor for the second of three seasons. Due to the poor condition of Carlson Park, they played their home games at Wade Stadium and Cloquet.
A season-opening non-conference loss at Elk River by a score of 10-2 on April 8 didn’t phase them as they went on to win their next nine games.
Nik Peterson threw a two-hitter in the 10-0 win over Hermantown on April 18 at Cloquet for the first win. On April 25, Proctor snuck past Duluth East at Cloquet, 8-7.
Dan Norton’s two-run triple tied the score and he then scored the go-ahead run on Peterson’s single in the sixth inning as reliever Jason Malec tossed two-and-one-third shutout innings for the 6-5 win against Silver Bay at Wade Stadium on April 28.
Malec returned to the mound the next day and pitched a two-hitter in the 11-1 win against Duluth Denfeld at Cloquet.
Peterson tossed a shutout to beat Cloquet, 2-0, on May 1.
Bill Richardson earned a non-conference win with 11 strikeouts as Proctor beat Northwestern, 6-5, at Lake Nebagamon on May 3. Proctor stole eight bases.
Back in LSC action at Wade, Proctor destroyed Duluth Cathedral, now the Marshall School, 23-0, on May 5.
Scott Pionk hit a two-run, walk-off triple in the bottom of the eighth inning in the 4-3 win against Central at Wade Stadium on May 9. The game was a pitchers’ duel between Peterson (12 strikeouts) and Troy’s Keith Shaw (two hits in seven-plus innings).
The Rails clinched their second LSC championship—the first came in 1977—with an 11-1 win over Two Harbors at Cloquet on May 13. Norton threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts.
Proctor lost a non-conference game to Superior, 5-1, at Wade Stadium on May 14, but reversed that score the next day on a return trip to the brick ballpark to defeat LSC foe Duluth Morgan Park to conclude the regular season. Proctor took a 10–2 record into the playoffs.
Malec threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts to beat Central, 2-0, in the Sub-Region 2 semifinals at Cloquet on May 20. Losing pitcher Reed Kolquist allowed just two hits in four and two-thirds innings.
Cloquet’s Mark Johnson hit a three-run double for a 4-2 lead in the third inning of the sub-region championship game at Cloquet on May 23. Matt Downs scored on a wild pitch in the fifth inning to cut the lead to 4-3. In the sixth, Chuck Flynn doubled and scored the tying run on a triple by Malec. After John Kuzas walked, Mike Woods plated Malec and Kuzas with a two-run double to make the score 6-4, which stuck to the end. Malec earned the win in relief of Peterson. He did not allow any runs despite issuing five walks.
Proctor gained entrance in the four-team Region 7AA tournament at Grand Rapids and faced the three-time-defending-champion host in the semifinals on May 27. In previous Region 7AA matchups, Proctor won, 2-0, in the 1976 semifinals and lost, 2-1, in the 1978 title game. This third tilt was another nailbiter.
Jeff Skelly’s fourth-inning grand slam put Grand Rapids ahead, 4-1. Proctor scored a run in the sixth for a 4-2 score. Woods led off the top of the seventh with a double and scored on Pionk’s single. Downs, who had singled, scored the tying run on Norton’s seeing-eye hit. With no outs and the bases loaded, Grand Rapids brought in sophomore reliever Craig Yelle. Yelle, who spent most of the season on the junior varsity, got two strikeouts and a groundout to keep the score tied, 4-4.
The score remained knotted until Grand Rapids’ Todd Grina scored from second base on a throwing error in the bottom of the eighth. Proctor’s season came to an end. Malec allowed just five hits in seven innings, but the grand slam doubled the amount of runs he allowed all season.
Grand Rapids went on to defeat Hibbing to advance to its fourth of eight straight state tournament appearances.
Proctor’s leading hitters were Peterson (.350), Norton (.333), Woods (.328), and Pionk (.310). Pionk led in runs scored, 16; Woods in hits, 19; and Norton had the most RBI, 17.
Peterson (4-0 W-L, 2.26 ERA) led in innings pitched, 40.1. Malec (5-1, 1.71) led in wins and ERA. Both notched 41 strikeouts. Norton (2-0, 0.00) had 22 strikeouts and three walks in 11 innings pitched.
The Rails stole 81 bases in 1980, still far and away the most in school records. The .800 win percentage (12-3) ranks second, only surpassed by 2011’s section-championship team (.846, 22-4).
In a letter issued to the players after the season, Coach Rich Petersson wrote, “Thanks for an outstanding and memorable … season. … We accomplished two of our three goals [conference, sub-region, and region titles]. … I would like to pay special thanks to the Seniors [Kuzas, Dave Lockwood, Malec, Roy Nelson, Woods] … Your leadership and talent were instrumental in making this year's team successful. … Don’t forget that the success you have attained came as a result of hard work and next year will be no different. Success is attained not by the lucky, but by the team that works hard to reach their goals. … If it is any consolation you were members of the best team Proctor has had in the four years I have coached, and maybe of all time. Juniors, be proud of this season but don’t be satisfied -- Next year can even be better!”
The next year was just as good: a 13-4 record and another 9-0 tally in LSC play for back-to-back conference titles and an ongoing 19-game LSC winning streak.
As Proctor’s football coach and assistant baseball coach, Terry Egerdahl advocated for improvements at Carlson Park. Upon his death in December of 1980, Proctor responded. With the opening of Terry Egerdahl Memorial Field in the fall of 1981, baseball returned home in ‘82. After three more LSC victories, the streak ended on May 10, 1982, with a 5-3 loss to Denfeld at home.
The Rails lost to Grand Rapids twice more in the latter’s eight-year reign as Region 7AA champs, falling in the finals in both 1982 and ‘84.
Pionk was a junior in 1980. Forty years later, he called the Grand Rapids game “impossible to forget.” He just about nailed the game’s details on the head in an email and added that Malec had recorded two outs before allowing a hit batsman on an 0-2 count and walking the next two batters before the grand slam. Some memories never fade.
Malec, who went on to play for Hibbing Community College and UMD—he still holds the Bulldogs’ record for career ERA—before being signed by the Minnesota Twins and spending two years in the minors, recalled, “We were a very good team. Just couldn’t get past Grand Rapids for multiple years. We had a lot of talent. There was no double elimination back then. You lost and you were out. Put that team in today’s playoff system and we would have gone to state quite often.”
1980 Rails Baseball: “Impossible to Forget”
By Anthony Bush