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Two strikes and you're not out! Dakota advances to finals PHOTO GALLERY

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Cougars defeat Mattawan, 6-3

EAST LANSING >> Two-strike hitting was the recipe for Dakota’s success Thursday evening.

Clutching hitting helped the top-ranked Cougars to a 6-3 win a tough Division 1 state semifinal match up against No. 5 Mattawan at Secchia Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

“We work on two-strike hitting every day in practice and I feel that we’re a good enough hitting team that we can still put the ball in play with two strikes,” Dakota coach Rick Fontaine said. “We executed today and that’s good to see that happen.”

Seven of the Cougars’ 10 hits came with two strikes, including all six base hits in a four-run first inning. Corbin Hison led off the game with a 0-2 single to left. Four consecutive two-strike hits followed off the bats of Olivia Patton, Kattie Popko, Julia Salisbury and Kendahl Dunford.

The big hit was Dunford’s two-run double into the left centerfield gap that gave Dakota a 3-0 lead. Sam DiCicco’s two-strike single to left followed, giving the Cougars a 4-0 lead.

The Cougars’ hitters had Mattawan pitcher Emily Koperdak against the ropes again in the second inning when Patton hit a two-out triple. But Popko grounded out to end the threat.

Dakota couldn’t deliver the knock-out punch, though the Cougars did break through again with two runs in the sixth inning.

“We had some opportunities,” Fontaine said. “They’re still a great team and made some great plays. That’s what good teams do. We got out of a jam earlier too. Hey, we were expecting a game today.”

Mattawan scored a run in the first inning and added a pair to make it 4-3 in the third.

But Dunford, the Cougars’ senior ace, settled into a rhythm with her changeup and retired the final 13 batters in the game.

“She kept our hitters off balance just enough,” Mattawan coach Alicia Smith said. “We’re usually a little bit better at hitting earlier in the count. So we were hoping to not have to get to that point in the count where she could throw those effectively.”

Dakota now heads to the finals for the second straight year. The Cougars will face Grandville (31-7) in Saturday’s Division 1 championship at 12:30 p.m.

Last Updated: 6/15/2017 8:54:47 PM EST