North Mankato – The way Farmington's Maddie Muelken pitched in a 2-0 victory over 2016 champion Chanhassen in the Class 4A softball semifinals, you would never know the senior 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 when 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 hopped over the fence for 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 Hodgkin's earlier this year and missed the first four games of the season, struck out 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."
Anoka 1, Woodbury 0 (13): The two best pitchers in the metro faced off with a berth in the Class 4A championship game on the line. Anything less than a 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 balk proved costly for Woodbury as second-seeded Anoka created a run in the bottom of the 13th inning.
"I don't know that I've seen anything better than that," Anoka coach Toni Jesinoski said.
Elliott gave up seven hits and struck out 13 while Mickschl allowed 11 hits and fanned 10. Both are Augustana signees.
"When the pitchers are having a duel like that, it pushes each other to do better," said Elliott, her postgame 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."
It was Elliott who drove in the 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 winning run scored.
"When I saw that [Woodbury] fielder dive, I wanted to beat her to home plate myself."