17 May 2013

Softball: Tiger spilt with No. 6 Shakopee

Ashley Betzold two-hit shutout (photo by Jim Lindquist)
Ashley Betzold pitched a two-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over sixth-ranked Shakopee in the second game of a Missota Conference doubleheader Thursday afternoon at Tiger Field.

The Sabers won the opener 3-2 in comeback fashion, scoring three runs in the top of the fifth inning to erase a one-run Farmington lead.

The split of the twinbill gave the Shakopee (13-1) the 2013 league title; the Tigers, the defending champions, finished second at 11-3.

"Two good games today," Farmington coach Paul Harrington said. "Great pitching, solid defense. Now we just have to get the bats going a little better."

The Tigers drew first blood in the opener, scoring in the second inning on Toni Hunsinger's single and Maddie Muelken's double to left.

The one-run edge held until the fifth when the visitors used three hits and the only Tiger error of the day to score three times.

The big play of the rally came with the game tied and runners on first and second and one out. The Shakopee hitter bunted and Betzold made a sprawling catch for the second out.

Seeing that the runner on second had bolted for third, Betzold threw from her knees to get the third out at second base only to see her throw tip off the glove of centerfielder Carly Esselman who was racing into cover the bag. One run scored and a single by the next hitter plated a second.

"That was a big play but it didn't cost us the game," Harrington said. "In games like this you usually need more than two runs to come out on top."

The Tigers cut their deficit to a run in the bottom of the fifth on Esselman's single, a sacrifice by Taylor Yousse and a run-scoring single up the middle by Betzold.

Esselman doubled in the seventh and moved to third on a wild pitch but the Tigers could not bring her home.

Toni Hunsinger game-winning hit in second game (photo by Jim Lindquist)
The nightcap was a pitching duel between the two best pitchers in the league, Betzold and the Sabers' Alex Walker. Betzold allowed two hits and two walks in the win; Walker also gave up two hits and struck out seven in her first conference loss of the season.

The winners scored the only run of the game in the first when Esselman singled, advanced on Yousse's bunt and scored on a sharp single by Hunsinger.

Though Shakopee came in with the state-rating Harrington termed the two teams "dead-even."

"This was good, playoff-type softball today," he said.

The actual playoffs kick off next Wednesday when the Tigers (15-4), the defending Section 1AAA champions, will no doubt host an opening round game at Tiger Field. The top four seeded teams in  the 12-team section, draw a bye in the opening round and host the three-team opening round games.

"I would think we would be the one or two (seed)," Harrington said,. "but you never know how people vote."

Carly Esselman scored the game-winning run (photo by Jim Lindquist)