31 May 2012

Softball: Knocking down the door to state

A picture's worth a thousand words...and a trip to the Class AAA State Tournament
After Tuesday's 4-3 win over Hastings in the Section 1AAA winner's bracket final, the Tigers were knocking on the state tournament door.

Two days later at Todd Park in Austin they blew that door off its hinges with a dominant 5-1 victory over Rochester John Marshall to win the section crown and advance to next week's Class AAA Championships in Mankato.

"Our captain, Allie Rice, picked up on that saying and had the girls ready to play tonight," coach Paul Harrington said, "and that's what they did. They knocked the door down."

The state tournament berth is just the second in the history of softball at Farmington. The Tigers finished runner-up to Eastview in the 2003 state tourney.

"This is great for our program," first-year coach Harrington said. "Two trips to state in 35 years isn't very many. We want to change the culture around here so that happens a lot more often from now on."

Captain Rice led by example in the section finale, following Ashley Betzold's first-inning double with a two-run homer over the right-centerfield fence for a quick 2-0 lead.

Ashley Betzold 2-3, 2 2B, HR
Betzold saw to it that would be enough to punch the Tigers' ticket to state by pitching five-plus innings of scoreless ball against the high-scoring Rockets who came into the game averaging more than eight runs a game in the post-season.

"I threw more change-ups tonight and I pitched inside more," the junior righthander said. "They had some batters who were standing right on the plate...I was a little nervous at first, but sometimes I think I pitch better when I'm that way."

Harrington couldn't say enough about Betzold's three-hitter that produced her 17th win of the season. From the first through the fifth innings she retired 13 of the 14 hitters she faced.

"She stepped up big time in a big game," he said. "She's done that all season but she's kept getting better with each game in the tournament."

By the time JM scored its lone run on two singles and a fielder's choice ground ball in the sixth, Farmington was sitting on a comfortable 5-0 cushion.

The winners doubled their lead to 4-0 in the top of the fifth inning on singles by Amber Doyle, Rice, Toni Hunsinger and Taylor Haakana and Betzold's second double of the night.

Betzold accounted for the final Farmington run with a solo home run over the leftfield wall in the top of the  sixth.

Betzold finished 3-4 at the plate with a double and run batted in. Rice went 2-3 with a walk and two RBI. Toni Hunsinger also collected a pair of hits for the section champs.

Allie Rice 2-3, HR, 2 RBI (photo by Jim Lindquist)
The win gives the Tigers a 17-4 season record heading into next week's opening round match-up with Section 4AAA winner Stillwater at Caswell Park in Mankato.

Harrington said he is sticking with his season-long philosophy as he prepares for his sixth state tournament as a coach. He previously took five Totino Grace teams to state.

"We don't look back, only ahead," he said. "I told the girls they have three days to savor this win, but then it's back to business focusing on our next game.

"I'm an optimist. I always think we'll make the pitch, make the catch and come up with the timely hit when we need to. That's the way we'll approach next week and we'll see what happens."

The Farmington-Stillwater opening round game starts at 9:00 a.m. next Thursday (June 8) in Mankato.

The Tigers show assistant coach Mal Betzold who's No. 1