Captains (left to right) Carly Esselman, Taylor Yousse and Molly Berdan are back to lead a Farmington softball team that will play in the South Suburban Conference for the first time this spring. The Tigers are 53-22 over the last three seasons.
Softball: Farmington nine is ready for the challenge
The conference has a few schools with strong softball traditions and has produced its share of state-qualifying and state-championship teams over the last few years, including Lakeville South just last spring, but the Tigers have been keeping pace by upping their own game over the last three seasons under head coach Paul Harrington. In their final three seasons in the Missota Conference, the Tigers went 53-22, qualified for state twice and finished in the top three in the league standings three times.
That success gives the team confidence it can compete in the SSC right off the bat.
“We’re all looking forward to it. We’ve been talking about it for two years, talked about having to step it up,” Harrington said. “The improvement has come with the off-season stuff. They’ve prepared and they’re not intimidated. They’re ready.”
The Tigers got a taste of life in the South Suburban last spring when they lost twice to South in the Section 1AAAA tournament. The team fell short of its third straight state berth, but still finished 16-9.
Seven starters are back from that team, including pitcher Maddie Muelken, who got better and better throughout her freshman season and ended up pitching the Tigers back through the consolation bracket by completing 20 innings in one day in victories over Mayo and Hastings. She finished the season with a 1.82 ERA, 93 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 134 1/3 innings on the rubber and had a .306 batting average with 13 RBI.
“She kind of turned the corner last year,” Harrington said. “About three-fourths of the way through the season she stepped up and did awful well. She made a big move and could get better yet.”
Muelken is one of four players that give the Tigers a strong core of returning players up the middle. Catcher Emily Berdan (2 HR, 11 RBI) is back with another year of experience, Taylor Yousse provides solid defense at shortstop and all-state second-teamer Carly Esselman returns to cover centerfield. Esselman hit .430 out of the leadoff spot last year and scored a team-high 26 runs.
Other top returning hitters are all-conference first baseman Amber Doyle (4 HR, 24 RBI, .310 avg.), all-conference left fielder Ashley Ibinger (20 runs, 12 RBI, .388 avg.) and honorable mention right fielder Molly Berdan (17 runs, 14 RBI. 282 avg.).
Several returning varsity part-timers and JV players are in the mix to fill out the rest of the lineup, including No. 2 pitcher Meghan Silber (32 K, 3.22 ERA in 32 2/3 innings), Caitie Dully and Nicole Pierick, among others.
“Everyone is competing for spots,” Harrington said. “There are a bunch of good kids fighting for playing time and good kids pushing themselves to keep their spots.”
The Tigers start their first season in the SSC at home April 7 against the defending champion Cougars. Harrington said they return a lot of position players from last year and figure to be among the league favorites.
“It will be good to have them right away. We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Along with them, the names I hear are Eastview, Rosemount and Prior Lake. Then I think it’s pretty wide open.