Softball: 'The Comeback' propels Tigers back to 3A state
It had only been a couple of days, but by Monday Farmington softball coach Paul Harrington was already talking about Friday's Section 1AAA tournament finals in Northfield as one that a lot of players and fans will remember for a long time.
More specifically, he was talking about the conclusion of the first game of a doubleheader against Hastings that the Farmington softball team needed to sweep in order to advance to its second straight state tournament.
Trailing by three runs with three outs to go, the Tigers scored four runs on five hits in the bottom of the seventh, the last of which was a two-out, bases-loaded, walk-off single by Molly Berdan that capped a 7-6 victory and sent the Orange and Black into a frenzy.
Stellar defense and another strong outing by senior ace Ashley Betzold carried the Tigers to a 3-1 win in Game 2, and a team that was one out away from elimination in Northfield now opens the Class 3A state tournament against Forest Lake today in North Mankato.
"That was one of the most amazing seventh-inning comebacks I have ever witnessed, especially in such a high-level section game," Harrington said. "I am sure all involved will always refer to this as 'The Comeback' and will never forget it."
The top-seeded Tigers were forced to fight their way back after falling to Hastings 3-2 in the semifinals earlier in the week at Todd Park in Austin. They stayed alive with a 5-3 win over Winona in the consolation bracket, meaning they would have to beat Hastings twice in rainy Northfield to defend their section title.
The Raiders came out swinging in Game 1 and plated six runs in the first four innings, including three in the top of the fourth to take a 6-2 lead. Farmington got on the board thanks to a second-inning solo home run by Amber Doyle, and scored again on Doyle's RBI single in the fourth. Doyle scored a run of her own on Toni Hungsinger's double to make it 6-3 through five.
The score stayed that way until the memorable bottom half of the seventh. Doyle once again started the rally with a double, and came around to score on singles by Hunsinger and Kendall Novak. A single by Taylor Yousse then made it 6-5 and Carly Esselman worked a walk to load the bases with two outs. Berdan followed with a base hit down the right field line, her third hit of the game, to give the Tigers the victory.
That momentum proved difficult for Hastings to slow down in Game 2. The Tigers scored first thanks to an error and a two-out triple by Yousse in the second inning, and an inning later Betzold hit an RBI double and Hunsinger hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
Betzold allowed just four hits and was backed by flawless defense in the tournament-clincher. Berdan threw a runner out at first from right field, Hunsinger made a diving catch in foul territory and Esselman made a diving grab in center to end the game.
"We played perfect defense this game, our best game of the year," Harrington said. "Ashley Betzold took control on the mound.... For the most part she just basically shut down a very good hitting team. We need to carry strong pitching and defense into Mankato to be successful."
The Tigers take a 20-5 record into today's first-round game against third-ranked Forest Lake at Caswell Park. The high-powered Rangers have a record of 22-2 and have scored 10 or more runs in 12 of their games.
Harrington hopes another year of experience will help the Tigers improve upon last year's appearance when they went 0-2 and were no-hit by eventual champion Stillwater in the first round.
"Although we are a very young team, we feel we are a veteran team going back to Mankato due to our experiences last year," he said. "The rest of the field of teams is as tough as I have ever seen it. There are no easy opponents in the state tournament and we will have to be at our best. We are very excited and very much looking forward to our return trip."