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Class A softball: Carlton falls on late hit in quarterfinals before winning first state game

Dave Harwig / For the News Tribune Carlton's Abby Mickle hits a two-run home run during Thursday's Class A quarterfinal softball game vs. Randolph at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn.1 / 3
Dave Harwig / For the News Tribune Carlton first baseman Ally Hoeffling tags out Randolph's Megan Erickson during Thursday's Class A quarterfinal softball game at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn.2 / 3
Dave Harwig / For the News Tribune Carlton's Bella Anderson drives in a run with a base hit during Thursday's Class A quarterfinal softball game vs. Randolph at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Minn.3 / 3

NORTH MANKATO, Minn. — Though his No. 3 hitter Megan Erickson has been struggling to hit the ball lately, Randolph softball coach Dennis Trom wasn’t about to pinch hit for her or have her attempt to bunt to get on base when the freshman catcher came up to bat with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning of a Class A quarterfinal against Carlton.

Good idea.

Erickson laced a shot up the middle to bring Morgyn Otte home from second base and give the Rockets a 4-3 win over the Bulldogs in the Minnesota high school state tournament at Caswell Park this afternoon.

“We got the hit from a girl who has been struggling a little bit,” Trom said. “She kept her head up and stroked that ball. With the standards that she set for the year, you could say she’s (been struggling in recent games).

“But she’s a very confident girl up there. I felt good with her coming up and the winning run at second.”

Carlton rebounded to beat Hayfield 2-1 in a consolation semifinal for its first state tournament victory in school history. The Bulldogs (16-4) will play Badger-Greenbush-Middle River (20-8) at 9 a.m. Friday.

Trom had debated whether to have Otte, batting second in the order, lay down a bunt and move Haylee Gunderson into scoring position. Instead, Trom had Otte swing away and she nearly hit into a double play that would have sent the game to extra innings. But shortstop Abby Mickle’s throw to first was high and allowed Otte to reach second base and set up Erickson’s heroics in an otherwise well-played game.

Mickle provided Carlton’s offense early on with a two-run home run in the first inning.

“She barreled it out to straight center field,” Carlton coach Melissa Clark said. “It was a beautiful hit. It was nice to get that momentum at the beginning of the game, but then I felt we plateaued in the middle and weren’t able to generate any more runs.”

Fourth-seeded Randolph (23-1) responded the next inning when Mackenna Otte doubled to right-center field with the bases loaded to put the Rockets ahead 3-2.

That was the only hard hit Brynne Mickle allowed until Erickson’s game-winning double.

“Brynne pitched really well and our defense played well,” Clark said. “It was just one of those games that could have gone either way. A one-run game, a low-scoring game and both teams played well.”

Carlton tied the game at 3-3 in the fourth when Alaina Bennett led off with a walk, stole second, went to third on the catcher’s overthrow and scored on Isabella Anderson’s single.

The Bulldogs only totaled three hits off Morgyn Otte and struck out eight times.

“They were good hitters but on some of (their hits) we just didn’t catch it or back it up,” Abby Mickle said. “Brynne pitched a really good game, we just needed to get the bats going.

“We gave it a better effort than last season’s first game.”

Carlton lost 10-4 to New York Mills in its state tournament debut in 2017 and then fell in the consolation round as well.

For Randolph, which was making its own debut at state, the win buried some heartache from a year ago when the top seed in Section 4A lost to the eighth-seeded team and was bounced right away.

“These girls have been on a mission from the beginning of the year … and the mission is still going,” Trom said.

Carlton 2, Hayfield 1

Brynne Mickle scattered seven hits and drove in a run as the Bulldogs made team history.

Isabella Anderson was 2-for-3 and scored a run, while Abby Mickle tripled in Alena Wallin with the winning run in the top of the fifth.

Carlton only totaled six hits off Caitlyn Hendrickson, who struck out five.

Hayfield (14-9) scored its lone run in the bottom of the fifth on Carrie Rutledge’s RBI single, but Brynne Mickle stranded two runners by getting a groundout and a flyout.