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Dakota pitcher Kendahl Dunford on Dakota's 6-3 win over Mattawan. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News

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East Lansing — Macomb Dakota’s entire plan worked to perfection on Thursday.

Dakota scored four runs in the first inning to take a quick lead, basically turning the game over to pitcher Kendahl Dunford, and played steady defense to defeat Mattawan, 6-3, in a Division 1 semifinal.

Dakota (36-2) returns to the state championship game Saturday against Grandville.

“Getting ahead is way easier than being behind,” said Olivia Patton, who had two hits, walked, and scored a run. “We wanted to stay focused and hopefully Saturday we can do the same thing.”

Dakota strung five consecutive hits from the first five hitters of the game – Corbin Hison, Patton, Kattie Popko, Julia Salisbury and Dunford — then got another run-scoring hit from Sam DiCicco to close out the quick rally.

“Driving up with my assistant coaches to the game, I said, ‘Let’s get up on them and get all the enthusiasm,’ and that’s what we really did,” Dakota coach Rick Fontaine said. “The whole team, our bench was outstanding, and not only did that get us up, but it deflated them.

“We had a good lead and then we had them down and we were able to get an out and get another out and that’s what we focused on.”

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Dakota coach Rick Fontaine on the key Friday defeating Mattawan. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News

Dunford allowed seven hits and three runs over seven innings, walking none and striking out two.

“It’s always butterflies coming to MSU because how could you not, you’re in the state finals,” Dunford said. “It’s always fun to be out there.”

Dunford pitched out of a couple minor jams and helped her own cause with two RBIs.

“Kendahl has been working hard all year, she’s one of the top pitchers in the state,” Fontaine said.

The Cougars hope Saturday’s championship game will have a different outcome than last year’s. Dakota lost to Farmington Hills Mercy a year ago, and weren’t expected by many observers to return to the championship.

“It’s good to be back,” Dunford said. “There’s a lot of motivation. We knew we could come back. We made it last year when nobody thought we could.

“This year, people were saying we weren’t as good but I think we’re just as good.”

Emily Koperdak had two hits and scored two runs for Mattawan (32-9).

Division 1

Thursday’s semifinals

Grandville 2, Clarkston 1

Macomb Dakota 6, Mattawan 3

Final: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

Division 2

Thursday’s semifinals

Richmond 4, Escanaba 2

Ida 3, Stevensville Lakeshore 2

Final: Saturday, 10 a.m.

Division 3

Friday’s semifinals

Monroe St. Mary C.C. vs. Shepherd, 3 p.m.

Gladstone vs. Napoleon, 5:30 p.m.

Final: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.

Division 4

Friday’s semifinals

Kalamazoo Christian vs. Indian River Inland Lakes, 10 a.m.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford vs. Coleman, 12:30 p.m.

Final: Saturday, 3 p.m.

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