01 June 2013

Against all odds: Tigers back to state

Taylor Yousse slides in with winning run in game one (photo by Jim Lindquist)
It took almost four hours, including two rain delays and a miracle four-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning of game one, but at the end of the day the Tigers were right where they wanted to be all along, back in the state tournament.

Farmington claimed its second straight Section 1AAA title with back-to-back wins over Hastings Friday afternoon in Northfield.

Molly Berdan's two-out single capped a frenetic seventh inning comeback in a 7-6 win in the opener. Ashley Betzold's four-hitter and run-scoring double keyed a 3-1 victory in the nightcap that officially punched her team's return ticket to Mankato.

Coach Paul Harrington, who has taken seven teams to the state tournament in his 11 years of high school coaching, said he was stunned following the sweep of the Raiders who had defeated his team by a run earlier in the week.

"In all my years of softball, I have never seen anything like the comeback in the first game," he said. "We have come from behind to win several games this year, but nothing like that. These girls just never quit."

The Tigers (20-5) will open state meet play Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m. against Section 7AAA champion Forest Lake (22-2) at Caswell Park in Mankato.

Farmington 7 Hastings 6
Things couldn't have started much worse for the Tigers as the Raiders plated two runs in their first at-bat thanks largely to a miscommunication on a potential force out at second base.

Amber Doyle, who has been red-hot in the section tourney, got one of those scores back in the bottom of the inning with a booming home run over the right-centerfield fence.

The teams traded runs in the third inning before Hastings extended its lead to 6-2 with a three-run outburst in the fourth.

Toni Hunsinger's run-scoring double made it 6-3 in the fifth, but with three outs to go in the home half of the seventh the defending section champions were on the ropes.

Doyle doubled to open the seventh and came around to score on back-to-back singles by Hunsinger and Kendall Novak. Jordyn Keprios moved the runners into scoring position with a ground out to first to set up the dramatic finish.

Molly Berdan tracks the game-winning hit (photo by Jim Lindquist)
First, Taylor Yousse came up with a clutch single to make it 6-5. After Mackenzie Bauer grounded out, lead-off hitter Carly Esselman walked set the stage for Berdan who lined the ball down the right field line for the game-winner.

"They had pitched us outside on Tuesday, so were trying to take the pitch to the right side all night," Harrington said. "We hit a lot of balls to rightfield."

Farmington actually hit the ball all over the field, finishing the contest with 15 hits, including three apiece by Doyle and Berdan and two each by Esselman, Hunsinger and Betzold.

Hastings touched Betzold for 10 hits. The senior righthander struck out five and walked one.

AFTER (photos by Jim Lindquist)

Farmington 3 Hastings 1

Ashley Betzold pitched a four-hitter in game two (photo by Jim Lindquist)
Betzold, who seems to get stronger the longer she pitches, was the story in game two. She gave up a run on four hits through four innings before retiring the final nine batters she faced.

"Ashley just took the ball and got it done," Harrington said. "She showed  a lot of senior leadership."

The Tigers took the lead in the bottom of the second when Keprios reached on an error and scored on Yousse's triple to right-center.

The winners made it 3-0 in the third on a single by Berdan, a run-scoring double by Betzold and Hunsinger's sacrifice fly.

The Raiders scored their lone run in the top of the fourth on a pair of hits but the Tigers escaped further damage by perfectly executing a run down for the final out.

"With all of the bad weather we've had this spring, we've had a lot of time to work on things like that," assistant coach Loren Cartwright said.

The Tiger defense played errorless ball in the game, a fact not lost on Harrington.

"Pitching and defense wins in this game," he said. "It's as simple as that."

Betzold had two of the seven Tiger hits in the contest. Doyle, Berdan, Keprios, Novak and Yousse had the others.

Last spring the Tigers made their first state tournament appearance since 2003 and lost two games. Harrington hopes the return trip to Mankato will end differently.

"We have some players who have been through it once and that should help," he said, "but you have to remember all of the teams down there will be tough. There are no poor teams in the state tournament."