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Softball: Rockets win, force winner-take-all for 4A title

Randolph's Mackenna Otte celebrates after crossing home plate in the third inning of Thursday's Section 4A game against Kimball at Northwestern College in Roseville. Joe Brown / RiverTown Multimedia

ROSEVILLE – Dennis Trom knows he has a team of talented hitters. Eventually, the Randolph softball team will find a way to put the ball in play.

On Thursday, that meant sacrificing some of the team’s patience for hits early in the count.

"Our strategy changed (from the first game) and we were going to swing away," Trom said. "This team is a very disciplined batting team, they don't swing at bad pitches. But I said, 'Today, that goes out the window. We got to go hit.' And they did a great job of it."

Kimball's Katie Merchant throws harder than any pitcher the Rockets saw all year and the Rockets had plenty of late swings the first time through the order. The second time through, second-seeded Randolph found its swing and flustered the top-seeded Cubs for a 6-2 Section 4A win Thursday at Northwestern College.

With the Rockets avenging a 7-0 loss in the semifinals, the two teams will meet for the third time Friday back at Northwestern in a winner-take-all game for the Section 4A championship.

Kimball struck first in the bottom of the second inning with Merchant scoring a run on an error.

Then with two outs in the top of the third, Randolph's top of the order came to bat for the second time. With two runners on, Morgyn Otte connected for a single for the Rockets' first hit, bringing home Andrea Splichal. The next batter, Megan Erickson, belted a two-run triple for a 3-1 Rocket lead.

"We were really timid against her the first game so coming back at her in this game was really good," said Morgyn, who was 2-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored.

The Cubs tacked on one run in the fourth with an RBI double from Merchant.

Then, wackiness ensued in the Rockets' favor.

Morgyn got her second RBI of the game with a well-executed suicide squeeze that brought home Mackenna. The next run came under some controversy when courtesy runner Cheyann Freundschuh was awarded a run due to catcher interference.

"It's funny. I was watching the College World Series and the exact same thing happened," Trom said. "You cannot block (the base path) until you catch the ball."

One more Randolph run came across in the inning on a gaffe as the Cubs committed five errors in the contest.

"We thought if we could get the ball in play they would make some mistakes out there," Trom said. "We got speed on the bases and we'll take that extra base every time."

For her part, Morgyn kept Kimball at bay over the final three innings, giving up just two hits in the fifth.

"I just worked on hitting spots outside and inside, nothing down the middle," Morgyn said after a one-strikeout, no-walk, complete-game victory.

Kimball (18-6) is looking for its third straight state appearance while Randolph (21-1) will try to punch its first ever trip to state.