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Dakota captures state championship on wild ending PHOTO GALLERY

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Kattie Popko scores on errant pitch in the eighth

EAST LANSING >> Once Kattie Popko heard the thud off the padding behind home plate she was off and running.

And she ran as fast as she could.

Popko raced in from third and beat a throw to the plate to score the winning run in the bottom of the eighth to lead Dakota over Grandville, 4-3, to claim the Division 1 state softball championship Saturday at Secchia Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

“It’s an immediate reaction,” Popko said. “I knew I couldn’t have any hesitation and that’s exactly when I did. I was off on contact of anything like that passed ball.”

Popko slid safely and quickly was mobbed by her teammates.

“I told her if it hit the backstop she was going,” Dakota coach Rick Fontaine said. “She has great speed and is one of our better baserunners. I told her to beat the pitcher to the plate.”

With one out in the bottom eighth, Popko reached base on an error, the second of the game committed by Grandville (32-8). Julia Salisbury and Kendahl Dunford followed with back-to-back singles to load the bases. After a strikeout made it two outs, Arienna Grammatico quickly fell behind 0-2. The third pitch sailed high and to the backstop.

“It’s unfortunate to get a result like that after that play, but that’s softball,” Fontaine said. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”

Popko scored three of Dakota’s four runs and had two hits.

“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to be the third out,” Popko said.

Dakota (36-2) lost in last year’s final, 4-0, to Mercy.

“Just to be able to come back and do this, I’m just so proud of them,” Fontaine said. “In a battle like that you have to take runs anyway you can get them.”

Dunford got the win, striking out 11 and scattering six hits.

“That what she does,” Fontaine said. “She gave up three runs in the first three innings and settled down from there. In my opinion she’s the top pitcher in the state and for her to take over a game like that, I’m just so happy for her.”

The win was her 105th at Dakota. She’ll play softball next season at Florida International.

“What an amazing feeling,” Dunford said. “I can’t think of anything else to say. It’s great to see what hard work gets you. It’s so great to have it pay off with a state championship. It comes down to who wants it more and we did.”

Dakota, which ended the regular season as the top-ranked team in Division 1, scored two runs in the first. Corbin Hison reached on an error and moved to second on a single by Popko. Julia Salisbury doubled in the gap between center and right field to plate both teammates.

Grandville tied the game in the top of the second and took the lead in the third.

In the second, Traci Merriman got an inside-the-park two-run homer, plating Ellie Muilenburg ahead of her.

In the third, Kalli Gibson drove in Maggie Bentley.

Dakota tied things back up in the bottom of the third. Popko doubled with two outs and scored on a single by Salisbury.

Last season Dakota outscored its first seven tournament opponents by a combined 57-3 before losing to Mercy in the final.

This year the Cougars had scored 42 runs and given up 14 coming into the final. They also needed a pair of seventh inning rallies to stay alive in the tournament.

“It was a battle,” Fontaine said. “They’re a heck of a team. We just wanted to keep putting the pressure on them. A lot of them weren’t imposing hits, but enough to get runners on base and move them around.”

The softball title was the first for the Cougars and the fourth for a team from Macomb County.

Last Updated: 6/17/2017 5:43:28 PM EST