Farmington's Maddie Muelken, center, ran off the field with her team after her pitching led them to a 2-0 victory over Chanhassen in the Class 4A softball semifinals Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato. Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES • liz.flores@startribu
Cancer, schmancer. The way Farmington’s Maddie Muelken pitched in a 2-0 victory over 2016 champion Chanhassen in the Class 4A semifinals, you would never know the senior pitcher has battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma all season.
Muelken was stellar in the victory Thursday, changing speeds and keeping the potent Chanhassen offense off-balance all game. She surrendered just four hits and induced myriad pop-ups and ground balls.
“I can’t wrap my head around this right now,” Muelken said amid a swarm of celebration around her. “I just knew I had to keep the ball down and keep it in the park. It’s just now sinking in.”
Farmington (23-3) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Catcher Emily Berdan led off with a walk and came around to score on a bouncer in the hole at short.
Chanhassen (24-2) had an opportunity to answer in the bottom of the first, but the team that has been so dominant all season saw the bounces work against them. A double by Jessica Bren would have scored Kali O’Keefe from first, but it took a hop over the fence and was ruled a ground-rule double, holding O’Keefe at third. Muelken then threw a wild pitch that bounced off the backstop right back to Berdan. O’Keefe, trying to score, was tagged out.
“That’s the luck of the draw,” Chanhassen coach Joe Coenen said. “That’s just the way the ball rolls sometimes.”
Farmington scored again in the fourth on a home run by Emma Frost. The rest was left in Muelken’s capable hands. She even worked out of trouble in the bottom of the seventh when her errant throw to first gave Chanhassen runners on second and third with two outs.
No problem. Muelken, who was diagnosed with the illness earlier this year and missed the first four games of the season, struck out Chanhassen’s Karin Ellefson to end the game.
“A lot of people would come off thinking that Maddie wouldn’t be able to do what she’s done,” Berdan said. “But the truth is, it’s brought us closer together. It’s made us want it more.”
The two best pitchers in the metro faced off with a berth in the Class 4A championship game on the line. Anything less than brilliant pitcher’s duel just would not do.
For 12 innings, Anoka’s Amber Elliott and Woodbury’s Ashley Mickschl matched each other, pitch for pitch, goose egg for goose egg. In the end, a procedural error proved costly as Anoka created a run in the bottom of the 13th inning, sending the No. 2-seeded Tornadoes to the Class 4A championship game.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen anything better than that,” Anoka coach Toni Jesinoski said.
Elliott gave up seven hits and recorded 13 strikeouts while Mickschl allowed 11 hits and fanned 10. Ironically, both have signed with Augustana.
"When the pitchers are having a duel like that, it pushes each other to do better,” said Elliott, her post-game fatigue mitigated by the thrill of the victory. “But even if we had lost, I would have been happy. We’re both great pitchers and we fought equally.”
In was Elliott who drove in the game-winning run. Kaitlyn Backman singled to lead off the 13th, went to second on a sacrifice bunt and was awarded third on a balk. Elliott then singled to end the game.
“I was just thinking I needed to hit the ball to the right side,” she said.
Jesinoski said she was as thrilled as anyone when the game-winning run scored.
“When in saw that [Woodbury] fielder dive, I wanted to beat her to home plate myself.”
No. 1-seeded Chanhassen survived a scare from Maple Grove, spotting the Crimson a 4-0 lead before rallying for an 8-4 victory Thursday morning at Caswell Park in North Mankato.
Maple Grove got a two-run home run from Erin Roehl in the first inning and another two-run shot from Ava Dueck in the third to take a four-run advantage.
Chanhassen rallied with a run in the fourth and took the lead with five runs in the fifth, the big blow being a two-run home run by Jessica Bren. The Storm added a pair of insurance runs on a two-run shot by Taylor Manno in the sixth.
Farmington blew open a close game with six runs on the sixth inning and another six in the seventh, pulling away from Park of Cottage Grove 13-2.
Emily Berdan hit a grand-slam in the sixth inning, turning a close game into a rout. Berdan finished with six RBI. Shortstop Olivia Hazelbaker went 3-for-5 and pitcher Maddie Muelken pitched a complete game four-hitter and singled twice for the No. 5-seeded Tigers.
Woodbury took advantage of four Buffalo errors in the fifth inning to score eight runs en route to a 10-0, 5-inning victory over the Bison.
The No. 3-seeded Royals pounded out 12 hits, led by second baseman Cam Veenbaas, who went 3-for-4 with three RBI.
Buffalo, a state championship game participant last year, was held to just two hits and had its 14-game winning streak ended.
No. 2-seeded Anoka outlasted Hopkins 5-3. With the game tied 2-2, the Tornadoes scored two runs on three singles in the fifth inning to take the lead for good. Pitchers Molly Swenson and Amber Elliott combined to earn the victory for Anoka.