Tars One Win Away From Regional Champs

Tars One Win Away From Regional Champs

Dakota played like a relaxed softball team Saturday at Anchor Bay.

That's what scoring runs early and often will do for a team.

The Cougars put up six runs through three innings against the host Tars and rode that to a 7-0 win and a second straight Division 1 regional championship.

"Getting up is huge, unlike last weekend where those games were strung out and the longer they go you get tense," Dakota coach Rick Fontaine said. "Getting up on them early just loosened us up a lot."

Dakota had a 12-1 cushion after three innings in a semifinal win over Cousino, which ended up 16-1 in four innings.

"It relaxed us a little bit," said Fontaine, who guided the Cougars to the Division 1 state championship game last season before falling to Mercy. "That last weekend was crazy."

To claim a district title last weekend, the Cougars won a pair of one-run games - 2-1 over Stevenson and 5-4 over Ford. In the win over the Falcons, Dakota (33-2 overall) scored three runs in the top of the seventh to erase a 4-2 deficit.

"Getting runs early just helps everyone out," said Dakota's Kendahl Dunford, who got both wins. "It helps me and helps us settle down in the field.

"We really focused on hitting this week and getting the ball in play," Dunford added. "We know our mechanics in the field are fine, but we wanted to focus on hitting the ball at the top and not more near the bottom or the middle."

The Cougars, who will face Garden City for a second straight year in a state quarterfinal on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Wayne State University, got all the runs they needed in the first inning.

Corbin Hison led off the game with a base hit. That was followed by a walk to Olivia Patton and an infield single by Kattie Popko to load the bases. Dunford then lined a shot to right field to score a pair on her double. Jackie Popko then plated her sister with a base hit.

Some alert base running by Jackie Popko led to the fourth run. She was off trying to steal second and never stopped running to score on a throwing error after Arieanna Grammatico put the ball in play.

"I'm so much more relaxed with a lead," said Dunford, who struck out six and walked three. "It's nice knowing if you do give up a couple of hits that it's not that big of a deal."

Julia Salisbury plated Kattie Popko in the second and Julia Sayles sacrificed in Jackie Popko in the third to put Dakota up 6-0.

After going down in order each of the first three innings, the Tars (24-16) finally started to put runners on base.

In the fourth, they put runners on first and second with one out.

In the fifth, they loaded the bases.

In the sixth, they left runners on second and third.

Dakota's defense and Dunford's pitching kept the Tars off the scoreboard each time they threatened.

"We just couldn't get that clutch hit," Tars coach Len Perkins said. "If you can't score runs you're not going to win. It's that simple. They got the hits to score runs and we didn't."

Anchor Bay, which had 11 hits off Dunford the last time they faced, had just four hits.

"Strikeouts at the wrong time," said Perkins, whose squad beat Lake Shore 1-0 to reach the title game. "You have to give them credit for getting us out, but at the same time if we get a hit here or there it could be a different ball game. At least they'd know that we are here."

Dakota, which is ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 1, got its last run in the sixth on a RBI double from Kattie Popko to plate Patton.

In the 16-1 win over Cousino, Jackie Popko (double, three RBI, run) totaled four hits, while Patton (three runs, RBI, two steals) and Salisbury (double, two runs, RBI, steal) had three each. Hison (two runs, RBI, walk), Kattie Popko (double, two runs, three RBI, steal) and Dunford (RBI, walk) had two hits apiece. Dunford went three innings, allowing one hit, no earned runs and striking out five for the win.