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Dakota wins first state title as Kattie Popko scores winning run in the eighth

By: Tom Markowski, June 17, 2017, 4:11 pm



East Lansing – Kattie Popko crouched on the third base bag just waiting, hoping for a chance to take off for home plate for what would be the winning run in a state championship game.

Macomb Dakota, runners-up last season, had the bases loaded and two outs with Arieanna Grammatico at the plate facing a 2-2 count, Popko readied herself.

“Coach (Rick Fontaine) told me I had to score,” Popko said.

When Ellie Muilenburg’s got past the catcher Popko took off. Her head-first slide beat the throw and Dakota had its first softball title.

Total Softball/State Champs Softball Player of the Year finalist Kendahl Dunford went all eight innings and allowed six hits, one walk and struck out 11 as the Cougars defeated Grandville, 4-3, in the Division 1 title game at Michigan State on Saturday.

It’s Dakota’s first softball title.

Dunford and Muilenburg was locked in quite pitcher’s duel after each team scored three runs in the first three innings. Popko’s sister, Jackie, was the only player to collect a base hit from the fourth inning through the seventh.

Dunford allowed a two-out single Kaitlyn Orme in the eighth and no more.

Kattie Popko reached base on an error with one out in the bottom half of the inning singles by Julia Salisbury and Dunford loaded the bases. Muilenburg struck out Jackie Popko bringing Grammatico to the plate.

“It’s an instinct,” Kattie Popko said. “As soon as I saw the ball go high (over the catcher’s head), I had to go. Two-out rallies are what we’re famous for.”

Dakota (36-2) trailed Utica Ford 4-2 in the seventh inning in a district final before coming back to win, 5-4. The Cougars trailed Garden City, 4-1, after six innings and won, 6-5.

“The battles we’ve had with Ford over the last couple of years hardened us,” Fontaine said. “They’re in our league and we’ve had some close games with them.”

Salisbury, a senior first baseman, had an outstanding game at the plate. She went 3-4 and bated in three runs.

Traci Merriman hit a two-run home run for Grandville (32-8) in the second and Kalli Gibson gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead with an RBI single in the third.

Muilenburg allowed two earned runs, seven hits, one walk and she struck out 10.

“After the third, all of a sudden the pitchers settled down,” Grandville coach Troy Ungrey said. “Tou have to play you’re a game. We made a couple of mistakes.

“The six has been our inning in the tournament and when we didn’t score it was a downer.”

It’s been quite a two-year run for Dakota and Dunford. Throughout the last two seasons they played the best teams throughout the state and now they can say they are the best.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Dunford said. “To lose in the final one year and win it the next. I started getting my spin moving, side to side, and in and out. On the bench I was hoping we’d get a hit to win but as long as we scored that’s all that matters.”