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Softball: Randolph fights back to win section title for first-ever state berth

With Morgyn Otte leading the way with the Section 4A championship trophy, the Randolph softball team rushes to its fans after defeating Kimball, 5-4, in eight innings Friday at Northwestern College in Roseville. It will be the first-ever state appearance for the Rocket softball team. Joe Brown / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
After hurting her ankle earlier in the game, Randolph's Andrea Splichal (9) is carried off the field by teammates Morgyn Otte and Haylee Gunderson after the team celebrated its Section 4A championship victory Friday. Joe Brown / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Randolph shortstop Makenna Otte makes a throw to first base during Friday's Section 4A championship game against Kimball at Northwestern College in Roseville. Joe Brown / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

ROSEVILLE — A year ago, the postseason was a nightmare for Randolph.

The top seed in the Section 1A-East bracket, the Rockets were stunned in the opening round by eighth-seeded Rushford-Peterson, ended the season way earlier than anticipated.

Randolph was set on making sure nothing like that happened again.

“Everyone was wanting it more,” said sophomore shortstop Mackenna Otte. “And they were thinking if we can go and show others what we can do they’ll start to respect us more.”

This spring, the Rockets went through the regular season a perfect 17-0. The Section 4A tournament saw Randolph lose to Kimball early in the bracket, only to fight back to the team’s first-ever berth in a section final and force a winner-take-all matchup with the Cubs on Friday.

And now, after a 5-4 win in eight innings, the hard-luck Rockets from a year ago are state bound for the first time in program history.

“It’s indescribable,” said freshman pitcher Morgyn Otte. “It’s really cool to finally be here for the first time for our school. For such a young team, it’s really awesome to take this.”

Both teams battled back and forth with the lead, with Randolph taking a 4-2 advantage after consecutive two-out, RBI doubles from Morgyn Otte and Megan Erickson in the top of the sixth inning.

But, the two-time defending section champion Cubs weren’t going down easy as Katie Merchant tied the game back up with one out in the bottom of the seventh with a two-run double to deep right field.

Randolph was rightfully stunned. But they weren’t about to head back out for the eighth inning with heads hanging.

“We’re a family; we have to stay together,” said Morgyn, who finished 4-for-5 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI. She also pitched a complete-game victory. “We picked each other up and kept each other going.”

Said Randolph head coach Dennis Trom, “These kids, they kept their head up and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go back, we’re going to get another run and then we’re going to shut them down.’”

Mackenna drew a one-out walk, then got to third after a single from Morgyn. After Skyler Turek hit a grounder to the second baseman, it looked like the threat was over with a simple tag to Morgyn. But while making the tag, the ball came out of Tori Harren’s glove, letting Morgyn advance to second safely and giving Makenna a clear path to home for the game-winning run.

“It was really scary. I saw her get the ball and I tried my best to get around her because I didn’t want to get an obstruction call,” Morgyn said. “When I saw that she dropped it, my heart just dropped. Knowing we scored was amazing.”

“My heart kind of dropped,” said Mackenna, who had a single and two runs in the victory. “I was really nervous. I was like, ‘I got to get there’ and I just went.”

The Cubs (18-7) threatened again in the bottom of the eighth with a runner at second with two out before the game ended with a pop fly. Kimball left 10 runners on base in the loss.

In anguish a year ago over their missed opportunity, the Rockets were able to celebrate state-caliber success for the first time.

“This is a great accomplishment for this team to be the first to go to state. And they deserve it,” Trom said. “They worked hard for it and they went out and got it.”

The Rockets (22-1) will begin the state tournament on 1 p.m. Thursday, June 7 at Caswell Park in North Mankato. State seeding will take place this weekend.