The lasting memory for those who witnessed the Farmington softball team’s improbable run to the 2017 state championship is likely Emma Frost exuberantly circling the bases and being mobbed by her teammates after delivering a walk-off home run in the 10th inning of the Class 4A title game.
But the blast may have overshadowed the Tigers’ most impressive accomplishment of the tournament: holding the top two seeds — Chanhassen and Anoka — scoreless over 17 innings in the final two rounds. Facing two teams that entered with a combined record of 49-2, senior pitcher Maddie Muelken and her defense recorded 51 outs without allowing a run en route to the school’s first championship.
“Hitting wins games, but defense wins championships. That’s always kind of been our motto,” Frost said. “Defense won us that state championship, holding Anoka to zero in 10 innings. That will get us back to where we need to be this year.”
Leadership, both from coaches and captains, was another key component. Longtime coach Paul Harrington, a 1974 Farmington graduate, kept the team focused and brought attention to detail. Senior captains Muelken, Emily Berdan and Caitie Dully, in addition to being major contributors on the field, developed the team’s camaraderie.
Stepping up as leaders for this year’s team is important for new captains Frost, Olivia Hazelbaker and Tarah DeCroock.
“We had very good leadership. We’re all following in their footsteps and doing the same things they did because they were very good leaders,” Hazelbaker said. “I think we’re a different team now that we lost our three seniors, but we have the same strengths.”
One of those strengths is the left side of the infield where both Hazelbaker and Frost reside. Frost, a third baseman, hit .310 and led the team with 11 home runs and 28 RBI last season, while shortstop Hazelbaker paced the Tigers in batting average (.424), on-base percentage (.490) and hits (36) while also driving in 23 runs. The duo earned all-conference honors the last two seasons.
“They’re two of the better defensive players at their positions in the state,” said Harrington, who has guided the Tigers to state four times in six years. “Along with the offensive side, they’re just two really good players. They allow us to pitch to our strength, keep the ball low and keep it in the ballpark.”
That pitching approach is shared by Muelken and Becca Silber, who stepped in when Muelken underwent cancer treatment early last season and posted a 7-0 record in seven starts. One of those victories was over Prior Lake, which won the South Suburban Conference and handed the Tigers two of their three losses.
“She showed us what she can do in those games,” Hazelbaker said. “We definitely have a lot of confidence in her that she will do amazing for us this year.”
Silber will have the benefit of pitching in front of a fast, experienced outfield. Left fielder DeCroock, center fielder Elly Rust and right fielder Taylor Jasper all return after contributing last season.
The team’s biggest question mark is at catcher, where Berdan worked with Muelken the last four seasons. Among the candidates to step in are Kaitlyn Mohr, who got 33 varsity at-bats last spring, and last year’s junior varsity catcher Morgan Ebel.
“We’re definitely going to need some younger girls to step into those roles and be ready to fill in the gaps,” Frost said.
Whatever obstacles the Tigers may face, Frost doesn’t think complacency or a lack of motivation will be one of them.
“We go in with the same expectations every year, to win state. It’s a new season, and we’re not even thinking about the last one,” Frost said. “No one really even talks about last season. We won, but now we want to do it again.”
Weather permitting, Farmington’s title defense begins Thursday at Edina.