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Horseshoes: Two Harbors resident a ringer at state tournament

A Two Harbors resident competed in the Minnesota Gopher State Horseshoe Pitchers Association annual state tournament over Labor Day weekend in Genoa.

A total of 158 pitchers from all across the state competed in five divisions — elder men's, men's, women's, cadets and juniors. Two Harbors pitcher Joe Raycraft was ranked 22nd in the men's division and competed as the number two seed in Class D. Raycraft won six of seven game with a tie to take home his second state championship in three years.

Raycraft cruised through the first two games first beating seventh seed Al Blumer of Princeton 38-19 with 12 ringers to Blumer's seven. Game two was against fifth seed Brad Heth of Blaine by a score of 38-14, pitching 15 ringers to Heth's nine.

Things got a little tougher against sixth seed Tim Bayerl of Alexandria as he held a 10 point lead at the halfway point of 20 shoes. Raycraft caught him at the 32 shoe mark and then pulled ahead for a 28-24 victory, pitching 15 ringers to Bayerl's 13.

Game four was against a very familiar opponent in eighth seed Bill Creighton of Tamarack. These two have faced each other many times in the past six years with the results pretty evenly split. This time Raycraft built a big lead with 14 ringers in the first 28 shoes. At that point the shoes went cold for him as he missed with his last 12 shoes. Luckily Creighton was unable to take advantage as Raycraft limped to the finish and a 34-17 win with 14 ringers to Creighton's seven.

Game five opponent Ray Pierce Jr. of Hibbing was the third seed and got off to a hot start and held a nine point lead early on. Raycraft started creeping back and finally caught Pierce at the 30 shoe mark but then Pierce scored four and Raycraft was behind again. The two pretty much traded ringer for the next six shoes and it all came down to the last two for each player. Holding a three point lead, Pierce threw first and got a ringer insuring he couldn't lose and forcing Raycraft to pitch two ringers just to tie. Raycraft did just that and the game ended in a 29-29 tie with each player pitching 14 ringers in a very exciting game. This was Pierce's second tie of the day as he and Bayerl tied 28-28 in their first game.

Game six saw Raycraft facing Jerry Rajkowski of Foley, the fourth seed and another frequent opponent with Raycraft mostly coming out on top. This game would be no different as Raycraft blew him away 40-11 with a career best game of 52.5 percent ringers on 21 of 40 shoes and Rajkowski pitching 11 ringers.

The final game came against first seed Peter Heltunen of Mountain Iron. Heltunen finished second to Raycraft in the 2015 Class E state tournament and was looking for a reversal of fortunes. Heltunen got off to a good start and built a decent lead early on. Raycraft kept pitching his game and finally tied the game at about the 30 shoe mark. Heltunen then suffered a little slump and Raycraft pulled ahead and finishing with a final score of 24-18. For the game Raycraft had 16 ringers to Heltunen's 14.

The final standing had Raycraft in first place with a record of 6-0-1 and 107 ringer for a career best ringer percentage of 38.21. In second place was Bayerl (5-1-1) with 88 ringers for 31.43 percent. Third place was Pierce (4-1-2) with 95 ringers for 33.93 percent.

In local action, the Lake Superior Horseshoe League has three nights remaining. Grover Melander has been in first place all season with Raycraft in second place and Ricky Clark currently in third. Matches are held on Mondays at 7 p.m. at Odegard Park. Everyone is encouraged to come out and see what it's all about and consider joining. It is a fun, low-impact sport for all ages and with the handicap system, players of all abilities are able to compete.

The league has lost several members this year and is really struggling to stay viable. Some new members are really needed to keep the league going in the future. For more information, call Joe Raycraft at (218) 834-5613.