28 May 2014

Softball: Back in the finals

Taylor Yousse drove in the game-winning run vs. Mayo (photo by Jim Lindquist)
It took a two-out seventh inning comeback in the first game and six extra innings in the second but the bottom line is Farmington is back in the Section 1AAA finals for the third consecutive year.

The Tigers scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning to beat Hastings 5-2 in an elimination game and then later pushed across a run in the bottom of the 13th in a heart-stopping 2-1 win over Rochester Mayo Tuesday afternoon and evening in Austin.

The wins, Farmington's fourth in five games in the tournament, set up a Thursday rematch with Lakeville South back in Austin at 4:00.  A win in that one means another game immediately following for the section crown and a trip to the state tournament.

"It was really a long and draining day and night," Tiger coach Paul Harrington said. "We played 20 innings of softball.... We couldn't ask for anything more from our girls. The coaches and fans are so proud of their efforts."

Carly Esselman scored in both games (photo by Jim Lindquist)
Farmington 5 Hastings 2
The Tigers broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fifth inning when leadoff hitter Carly Esselman singled and with two outs and scored on a throwing error.

"Carly was still running when she hit third base and they were a little lackadaisical in getting the ball back to the pitcher," Harrington said. "We stole a run there on some alert base running."

The lead was short-lived, however, as the Raiders rallied for two scores in the bottom of the inning to take a lead that would last until the top of the seventh.

The Tigers were down to their last out before the tables turned and in similar fashion to last year's championship game with the Raiders, the ball started to find holes in the Raider defense.

After consecutive hits by Molly Berdan, Amber Doyle, Maddie Muelken, Ashley Ibinger and Taylor Yousse and a Raider error, all of a sudden Farmington was sitting on a three-run cushion.

Muelken  pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh to seal the comeback win.

"It was another story book ending for us against Hastings," Harrington said. "Wow, what a finish!  Another one of those big comebacks that the girls, fans and coaches will never forget".

Farmington outhit Hastings 11-9 in an offense-dominating game with Muelken and Doyle each collecting a pair of safeties for the winners.

Maddie Muelken struck out 13 against Mayo (photo by Jim Lindquist)
Farmington 2 Rochester Mayo 1 (13 innings)
There was no shortage of drama in the extra-inning contest with both teams having plenty of opportunities to score along the way.

The Tigers scored in their first at-bat when Essleman bunted for hit, moved up two bases on a wild pitch and scored on Doyle's single.

That run held up until the top of the seventh when the Spartans forced extra innings with an unearned run.

Runners dotted the bases in the extra innings but none crossed the plate until the home half of the 13th when Muelken reached on an infield error.

Pinch-runner Tarah DeCoock advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ibinger and Yousse ended the marathon with a game-winning single up the middle. 

"Lots of kids had a chance to win it," Harrington said. "We left a dozen runners on but Taylor just took the game in her own hands at the end."

Yousse shared hero honors with Muelken who pitching all 13 innings and struck out 13 Spartans, a career-high.

Yousse and Esselman each had two hits to lead the resurgent Farmington offense that produced 20 hits in the two games.

Now its back on the bus on Thursday for another trip to Austin and a date with top-seeded South.

"We will really need to push ourselves to get mentally and physically ready," Harrington said. "We will need to play perfect defense against them to win. We cannot let down. We need to step it up one more time. Hopefully we have enough left in our tank." 

South edged the Tigers 3-2 in the championship semifinals last Friday.