EAST LANSING – Pitcher Kendahl Dunford and Macomb Dakota have been downright stingy in the Division 1 softball tournament.
The Cougars entered today’s semifinal having allowed just one run — while piling up 53. That’s a fact that probably didn’t go unnoticed by Midland, their semifinal opponent.
Overcoming an error and a mental miscue in the fourth inning, the Cougars advanced to their first championship game with a 4-2 victory over the Chemics.
Predistrict losers last season, this was a sigh of relief for coach Rick Fontaine.
“We pitched real well and kept them off balance. Kendahl was good on the mound, made them swing at our pitches, which was the game plan,’’ Fontaine said.
Dakota scored first on a RBI single by Claire Hamlin, scoring Kattie Popko, who had doubled in the previous at-bat.
Dakota scored another run in the bottom of the third, starting with a two-base error that allowed Corbin Hison to reach second. She was sacrificed to third and scored on a two-out single by Kelcie LaTour.
Julia Salisbury broke the game open when she doubled to the wall in leftfield, making it 4-0.
Hison made a stellar defensive play in the top of the fourth, robbing Allison Gray of a hit.
But in an uncharacteristic play by the Cougars after Hison’s gem, Maya Kipfmiller and Julia Gross scored on a double by Gross, followed by a Dakota error. The Cougars were credited with just one error on the play, but it seemed more like two.
“A little defensive hiccup there (in the fourth),” Fontaine said. “I don’t think we’ve made that many errors in the entire postseason and we got them all out of the way in one play. I guess that was a good thing. Defensively, we’ve been good all year. And Kendahl has been outstanding on the mound in the regular season and throughout the postseason.’’
Added Dunford, who struck out nine and scattered six hits: “When they got those two runs, it was like, ‘Now we have to come back and not make any more errors. Let’s just go to work.’ I think our centerfielder was going to dive for the ball, and I think the ball came so fast that she wasn’t ready to dive. It happened, and you have to pick your teammates up.’’
Dakota improved to 38-2 and, after years of frustrating losses by teams that dominated the Macomb Area Conference Red Division, the Cougars finally broke through.
“We’ve been talking about this since last year, when we lost our predistrict game,’’ Dunford said. “Now that we’re finally here, we’re in the championship game. It’s hard to describe.’’
There was no resignation on the Midland side after falling behind, but the Chemics couldn’t put together a rally.
“There was no panic,’’ coach Robin Allen said. “We’ve scored against the top pitchers. We thought we could score. They made some great plays on defense.’’