In Play with Tom Markowski

Kendahl Dunford strong again on the mound, Dakota reaches first state final

Softball   | Tom Markowski

Kendahl Dunford strong again on the mound, Dakota reaches first state final

East Lansing – The disappointment of last season is all but a memory now for Macomb Dakota. The Cougars are headed to the school’s first state final and there’s no one in their camp that don’t believe they will win it all.

Kendahl Dunford struck out nine, gave up six hits and the first runs of the tournament since the pre-district as Dakota defeated Midland 4-2 in a Division 1 semifinal at Secchia Stadium on the campus of Michigan State on Thursday.

Dakota (38-2) will play Farmington Hills Mercy for the title on Saturday at 10 a.m.

“We got our name back out there this year,” Dunford said. “Last year we got upset and it was so disappointing. This year we came together as a team. Going undefeated in the (Macomb Area Conference Red Division) helped. In the tournament we were on fire.”

Dunford, a junior right-hander, has pitched every inning in the tournament. She gave up a run in the fifth inning in Dakota’s 9-1 victory over Utica in the pre-district and didn’t allow another run until Midland pushed two runs across in the fourth. That’s a string of 36 scoreless innings.

“We pitched real well and we kept them off-balance,” Dakota coach Rick Fontaine said. “We had a little hiccup there (in the fourth). I don’t think we made that many errors at any time this season.

“With Kendahl, we got up on teams and we put the pressure on. Our senior leadership has been unbelievable.”

Two juniors, Kattie Popko and Claire Hamlin, had back-to-back hits that gave Dakota 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Popko doubled and Hamlin singled her home before being thrown out at second on the play.

The Cougars scored three unearned runs in the third to take a 4-0 lead.

Corbin Hison reached base with one out on an error. With two outs Kelcie LaTour, one of four seniors on the team, singled Hison in and Dunford followed with a single. The big hit of the game came off the bat of junior Julia Salisbury. She doubled to the fence in deep left-center field scoring two runs.

Midland (36-8) answered quickly with two runs to cut the lead in half. Starting pitcher Maya Kipfmiller, a junior who committed to Boston University, singled with one out and scored on junior Julia Gross’ double. The throw into the infield was wild and when third baseman Kelsey Ramus tried to get Gross who was attempting to score, Ramus’ throw sailed over catcher Samantha Bunk’s head allowing the second run to score.

Dunford settled down after that and allowed just two base runners in the final 3 2/3 innings.

“We were in it,” Midland coach Robin Allen said. “We had some hard-hit balls that they made plays on.

“We had so many memories this season. Losing one senior (Zoe Manary), hopefully everyone stays hungry.”

Kipfmiller pitched well in defeat. She allowed four walks and six hits, and those three unearned runs proved costly.

Dakota will attempt to be the second consecutive team from Macomb County to win the Division 1 title. Warren Regina won it last season. Even though it’s Dakota’s first final appearance, Fontaine isn’t surprised his team made it. Dakota won the MAC Red Division last season but was upset in the pre-district by Utica Ford.

“We had a good team last year,” he said. “We have a good team this year. The girls made it work.”

Andrea Elmore, again, wasn’t on her game but she was noticeably better than she was on Tuesday and Mercy outlasted Mattawan, 9-6, in the other semifinal on Thursday.

Elmore pitched 5 2/3 innings in Tuesday’s 11-7 quarterfinal victory over Lake Orion and Abby Krzywiecki came in relief to preserve the victory.

Elmore went the distance against Mattawan (32-9) and gave up two runs in the first inning.

Cari Padula’s three-run double highlighted a four-run second before a 45-minute rain delay sent the teams to their respective dugouts.

Mercy (42-2) scored two more in the third before Mattawan cut the lead to 6-5 with two runs in the third and one in the fifth.

Krzywiecki, Padula and Elmore each had an RBI in a three-run sixth and Elmore held on.

“It was a better day,” Elmore said. “They’re a good hitting team. My rise and my curveball were working. I wasn’t as nervous as I was against Lake Orion.”

It’s Mercy's second final appearance. Mercy lost to Portage Northern, 4-0, in the 2002 final.

“I’m going to tell them to enjoy the heck out of today,” Mercy coach Alec Lesko said. “We’ll practice (Friday) and we’ll do what we continue to do.”