Farmington a-Twitter as 9-year drought ends

  • Article by: BRIAN STENSAAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 5, 2012 - 5:16 PM

Paul Harrington came home to coach Farmington and led the Tigers into the state tourney.

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From left to right: Erin Wurst, Allie Rice, Ashley Betzold, and Brooke Jearier are leading Farmington to state for the first time in nine years. Photo by Joel Koyama • joel.koyama@startribune.com

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Supporters far and wide were ecstatic last week when Farmington's softball team clinched its first trip to the state tournament in nine years after a 5-1 victory over Rochester John Marshall in the Class 3A, Section 1 title game.

Even if coach Paul Harrington, himself "still just a texter," didn't quite fathom the attention.

"I'm not familiar with the Twitter world, but I hear it was loaded," Harrington said. "Whatever that means."

Senior captain Allie Rice summed it up in terms anyone can understand.

"A lot of screaming," she said, still giddy days later. "It's really amazing. When that popup was caught -- a lot of hoping, a lot of praying -- it was a great moment for all of us."

Harrington is definitely included.

The three-sport 1974 Farmington High School grad spent the past 11 seasons as head softball coach at Totino-Grace in Fridley, taking teams to state in six of those seasons including last year.

When he saw an opportunity arise last fall with the Tigers' job vacant, he struggled but pounced at the opportunity.

"The hardest decision I've had to make in a long time," he said. "But the moon, the planets [and] everything kind of lined up. I can get to the field in 10 minutes."

Though he hadn't been heavily involved in athletics in his hometown in nearly 40 years, Harrington said Farmington felt like a natural fit.

Almost.

"Learning names was a challenge," he said. "Not just varsity, but all the kids. You've got to figure out who plays where. And unlike TG, there's eighth-graders in the mix. That was new to me."

He inherited a varsity team that suffered double-digit losses in each of the past three seasons. But the Tigers turned things around this spring. Harrington gives all of the credit for the state berth success to the players on the field.

"Certainly I've had a lot of [success]," he said. "[But] I've been fortunate to work with a lot of good kids who really like to work hard. That's a big part of it. All I've done is try to get them motivated to put in the extra time here and there, besides just practice, you know?"

Players are quick to note his passion.

"He knows what he's talking about," Rice said. "And he loves Farmington."

The two together could provide a potent 1-2 punch at North Mankato's Caswell Park, where the Tigers (17-4) take on Stillwater (18-8) in the state quarterfinals at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Harrington's natural affinity for his town and his team, coupled with his experience with state tournament logistics, will be vital.

"I hope I can help by being able to make out a three-day itinerary in 15 minutes," he said.

He's not alone in wanting to make this week as stress-free and memorable as possible.

"We have to treat it like any other game," said Rice, a four-year varsity player. "But play our hearts out."

That's been the case most of the season, as the Tigers have battled back from deficits at some point in half of their games. Junior Ashley Betzold has all 17 victories at pitcher for the Tigers.

"If we get behind down there, we might not win it but we won't think we're out of it," Harrington said. "Almost every softball girl's dream is to play in the high school state tournament. To see the thrill in those girls' eyes, when they obtain that dream, is an awesome feeling for me. The state tourney is a great experience for them and these kids will have that memory forever."

Brian Stensaas • 612-673-4127

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