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State softball: Frost's walk-off blast gives Tigers 4A state title

The ending was fit for the big screen, but the Farmington softball team didn’t need any help from Hollywood.

The Tigers did all the producing themselves and played the starring roles in one of the most dramatic underdog stories to unfold in state high school sports history. A season that started with the Tigers unranked and without their best player from the previous year ended Friday, June 9, with a 10th-inning walk-off home run by Emma Frost and a state championship for a school that had never won one in its history.

Led by the pitching of senior Maddie Muelken, who was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma during the first week of practice and has undergone chemotherapy throughout the season, the Tigers shut out defending state champion Chanhassen and second-ranked Anoka on the final two days of the season to emerge as champions. The purple ribbons they've worn in their hair for cancer awareness since the season began bobbed up and down as they mobbed Frost at home plate at the conclusion of a hot, sunny day at Caswell Park in North Mankato.

Frost finally put an end to a 0-0 tie when she took a high fastball from standout Anoka pitcher Amber Elliott and deposited it over the mesh fence in left center field.

“Emma’s walk-off blast will be unforgettable for anyone that witnessed it. Game-ending home runs are always exciting, but ending a state championship game magnifies that excitement by at least 10 times more,” said Farmington coach Paul Harrington, who finally won a title in his ninth trip to state. “For our kids, FHS and the community of Farmington, that will always be our ‘Shot Heard Around the World.’ Emma’s home run was just so incredibly dramatic and amazing.”

At that point, Elliott had tossed 23 ⅔ consecutive scoreless innings while striking out 32 batters going back to Anoka’s first-round win over Hopkins. But Muelken was one better. A day after blanking 24-1 Chanhassen on four hits in the semifinals she kept Anoka out of the scoring column while scattering nine hits over 10 innings in the championship game. The Tiger defense committed a couple errors, but also made several stellar plays to escape jams and keep the game scoreless.

“Our defense and pitching responded and got us out of jams. Maddie toughened up and was not going to be denied,” Harrington said.

The Tigers finished the season 24-3 and riding a 14-game winning streak. Muelken, Frost and catcher Emily Berdan were named to the all-tournament team and, following a lengthy, tear-filled on-field celebration, seniors Muelken, Berdan and Caitie Dully were able to get back to Tiger Stadium just in time for their graduation ceremony Friday night.

"Our coaching staff is so proud of our kids and we are so happy for them, that they could have an experience like this,” Harrington said. “We are all taking great pride in our state Championship. Being our school’s first softball state championship and Farmington High School’s first ever team sport state championship is just mind boggling. These kids and this team earned a huge chapter in Farmington High School history.”

Farmington 13,Park 2

After defeating New Prague in back-to-back nail biters in the Section 1AAAA finals, the Tigers found themselves in another close game in the opening round at state last Thursday, June 8. They trailed 1-0 early on and were still tied with Park of Cottage Grove at 1-1 before exploding for six runs in the top of the sixth and six more in the seventh.

Tarah DeCroock and Taylor Jasper provided a spark at the bottom of the order with a pair of clutch RBI hits in the sixth, and Berdan followed by crushing a grand slam over the center field fence to make it 7-1. Berdan added a two-run double in the seventh to finish with six RBIs.

“All of a sudden our bats exploded. Emily’s grand slam really took the wind out of their sails,” Harrington said. “Taylor Jasper was a constant thorn in their side at the bottom of our order.”

Jasper went 3 for 3 out of the No. 9 spot in the order and scored three runs. Olivia Hazelbaker went 3 for 5 and Muelken added two hits. Muelken also overcame some uncharacteristic wildness in the early innings and held Park to two runs on four hits over seven innings. Berdan helped out by cutting down two runners at third base in the first inning.

Farmington 2,Chanhassen 0

An early lead helped the Tigers pull off the upset of the tournament in the semifinals. Berdan drew a leadoff walk in the top of the first, moved up on a bunt and scored on Frost’s infield single, and that run turned out to be all Farmington would need to advance to the finals.

“Taking the lead in the first inning was huge as it put the pressure on Chan right off the bat. Emily worked hard at the plate and drew a walk, Caitie Dully sacrificed her over, and then outstanding hustle by Emma got her an infield hit that resulted in a run when they couldn’t secure the ball after the play,” Harrington said.

Muelken worked well with the lead, holding a stacked Chanhassen lineup to four hits over seven innings. She got a little more breathing room in the third when Frost jacked her 10th home run of the season.

“Chanhassen was the No. 1-ranked team in the state and the No. 1 seed in the state tournament. They had five Division 1 recruits on their team. I don’t think too many people in the state were picking us,” Harrington said.