Feature Photo By Hillary Ehlen
There are so many moments in the grand history of North Dakota State softball that can be considered “program-defining” instances. The three straight appearances in the Women’s College World Series in 1973, 1974 and 1975? Those are a few. Moments that surely put the program on the map and set the tone for the success to come. The six straight North Central Conference regular-season titles from 1999 to 2004 are another. Add to that, a Division II national championship in 2000.
Then the transition to Division I. Since making that move after 2004, Bison softball has seen more program-defining moments. The string of Summit League dominance, including 11 combined regular season and conference tournament championships. You can also add the NCAA Regional victories over Mississippi State and Oklahoma the last two years to that category too.
However, if you were to ask followers and fans of the program, there might be one specific moment or string of moments that have truly defined Bison softball. At the very least, it has defined the Division I era. These program-defining moments took place in 2009, the program’s first season of postseason eligibility in Division I. The result was as remarkable as any.
Andi Padilla (now Farnam) was there. In fact, she was the backbone of the roster, holding down the mound on a day-to-day basis.
Farnam was a wildly successful prep pitcher for Don Lugo High School in Chino Hills, California. In her senior season, she compiled a 10-3 record, including nine shutouts and a stingy 1.21 ERA. Her impressive career out West caught the eye of NDSU head coach Darren Mueller, who was in his third year at the helm at the time. Farnam just wanted to find a place where she could make a difference. The Fargo cold did not deter her from being interested in becoming a Bison.
“During the recruiting process, I was wanting to go to a school where I could make an impact. I had received a letter from Darren, and he had mentioned that they were in the transition and that they were very successful in Division II and were wanting to recruit players that could build a foundation heading into Division I,” she said of her recruiting process. “For me, it was finding the right fit. I was interested in going away for school, that wasn’t a big concern for me, but I just wanted to make sure I went somewhere I felt comfortable and that I had a good team environment and I could make a difference in the program and not just be a role player. I really wanted to make a difference.”
Ultimately, Farnam choose to continue her career at North Dakota State. What that meant for her and other recruits was missing the chance to play in the postseason for most of their collegiate softball careers. North Dakota State had made the move to Division I in 2004 and was rendered ineligible for postseason competition until at least 2009.
While that fact could become an albatross around some team’s necks, it was not the case for the Bison in 2006, 2007 and 2008. North Dakota State won 28 games in 2006, 34 in 2007 and an impressive 37 in 2008. That season was also the program’s first in the Summit League. With that impressive mark, the Bison were conference regular season champions but were still unable to compete in the conference tournament. Farnam credits the coaching staff for not allowing the team’s mindset to change despite the postseason absence.
“A lot of the credit goes to the coaches Darren and Jamie (Trachsel). They knew where they wanted us to be. Each season, it was tough to know you weren’t playing for a championship. For us, it was a level of excellence we tried to meet. We knew that we were going to get better, so it was really just a matter of feeling like we did our best with our opportunities,” she said. “In 2008, when we were actually in the Summit League, it was so satisfying to win the conference based on record. Of course, it was disappointing to not be playing in the tournament, but we were so excited because that was our goal.”
That momentum transitioned into the offseason before the
2009 season for the Bison. For the first time, they would be eligible for postseason competition. With six seniors on the roster, including Farnam, North Dakota State knew this year could be special. Little did they know, they would embark on one of the greatest runs in program history. Farnam and the rest of the players and coaches knew they had the foundations of success laid down heading into 2009.
“We had a very good upper class. We had some strong personalities. Just like a lot of other teams, we were put through some pretty grueling workouts. I feel like those really bring people together. Looking back on those now, I probably wouldn’t want to go through them again, but they definitely made an impact on us as a team. It kind of just made our personalities come out,” she said. “We knew that we worked so hard and that when we stepped on the field, we weren’t going to be outplayed or outworked because we had done the preparation. Our coaches were great leaders for us too. I think back to the recruiting process and the transition and knowing our class would only have one year of being eligible for NCAA Regionals, there was so much build up coming into senior season and I felt that we had nothing to lose and everything to gain. It was empowering.”
For the team as a whole, they won a staggering 38 games, another improvement from the season before. To that point, it was their highest win mark in the Division I era, too. This included wins over big names like Notre Dame, Utah and Creighton. Much of this success on the field can be attributed to Farnam’s ability on the mound.
She pitched a mind-blowing 246 innings over the course of that 2009 season. Farnam won 26 games to just 12 losses, highlighted by a measly 2.27 ERA. Never known to be a strikeout pitcher, Farnam was still able to down 127 batters, and her opponents only hit for a .221 average against her. She also pitched eight shutouts that season. For a season as long and arduous as softball, Farnam was able to stay healthy and durable all season. Much of that is thanks to offseason conditioning and her pitching strategy.
“It takes a lot of conditioning. With pitchers, we always needed to be pretty well conditioned, our legs needed to be strong. If your legs are strong, it will allow you to have the endurance to pitch a lot of innings. I tried to get ahead in the count, limit opportunities for the other team. We had a really good defense and I think we were seventh in the nation in fielding percentage as a team, so we were pretty awesome,” she said. “It made me feel like I didn’t have to do everything. It was definitely a team effort and getting through the innings, I feel like I tried to limit walks, sometimes I would get a little walk happy. Just being conditioned and relying on your teammates. I was never the type of pitcher that was going to strike everyone out, so I really needed to make sure I hit my spots and I was getting ahead in the count and doing my job. Knowing what I can control and what I can’t.”
The Bison were able to win the Summit League Tournament in their first year of eligibility. They defeated number one seed and regular season champ Western Illinois to earn a berth in an NCAA Regional. Farnam was named the tournament’s MVP and was an All-Summit League First Team selection. Unfortunately for the Bison, they were immediately met with perennial powerhouse Oklahoma in the Norman Regional. The Sooners were ranked in the top ten in the country at the time.
North Dakota State remained unafraid by the powerful Sooners. The Bison beat Oklahoma 1-0 in an 11 inning stunner. Farnam pitched all 11 innings, gave up only two hits and struck out four Sooners. Even to this day, she has a hard time remembering that game.
“The Oklahoma game for me is kind of a blur in the sense that I was so focused. Looking back, I know this was probably the peak performance in my career at NDSU. I remember feeling in total command of my pitches and I wasn’t afraid to throw to the OU hitters because I had a stellar defense behind me. I was not thinking ahead, I really just tried to keep myself in the moment and what I could control then,” she said. “I remember an Oklahoma fan, I was throwing a no-hitter through however many innings, and it’s a cardinal sin to tell a pitcher they’re throwing a no-hitter. That Oklahoma fan made a point for multiple innings to say ‘hey number three, did you know you’re throwing a no-hitter?’ trying to get in my head. For me, I didn’t care I was throwing a no-hitter, that was not a concern of mine. I thought it was funny that we were getting those Oklahoma fans riled up because they were not expecting that from us.”
With the win, the Bison were moving on in the Norman Regional. Next up was Tulsa later that day. Despite pitching 11 innings earlier in the day, Farnam pitched a complete game against Tulsa, tossing seven more innings. While she struck out six, she surrendered a late two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning. This gave Tulsa a 2-1 lead heading into the final frame. Farnam recalls the bottom half of that inning fondly.
“The most memorable moment was in the second game of regionals against Tulsa. We were up by one
run in the top of the seventh, and I gave up a two-run home run. I felt awful, it was the worst feeling in the world because I just didn’t want to put my team in that situation. So we went to the bottom of the seventh inning,” she said. “Thankfully we were the home team and we ended up scoring two runs with two outs to win the game. It was the most incredible ending to a really emotional game. For me, it’s something me and my teammates still talk about and that was just incredible. I cried I was so excited and relieved because I didn’t want to let my team down at all. For us, that was a peak emotionally.”
North Dakota State went on to beat Tulsa the following day too, winning the Norman Regional. Farnam pitched another seven innings, giving up only two hits and a run in a 4-1 Bison win. North Dakota State dropped two games to Arizona State in the Tempe Super Regional to end their remarkable season.
Farnam moved back to California after graduation from NDSU. While she contemplated returning to school for her master’s, she received a call from a familiar voice, Darren Mueller. “I had actually moved back to California for a year and a half, and I was thinking about going back to school. I was in touch with Darren and he had said a grad assistant position was open, Director of Operations,” she said. “I remember talking to my parents and just saying, ‘Am I really going back to Fargo?’ As much as I really wanted to, it’d be hard to leave my family again, but it was the best decision I made. For me to be part of the team again, it allowed me to know some of the younger players and some of the recruits. It was kind of a no-brainer.”
That is when Farnam became the Director of Softball Operations for the team. She held that post for three years. In that time, she learned just how committed head coach Darren Mueller is to his players and fellow coaches. “He’s dedicated. He expects a lot from us, but he also puts in the work himself. I feel like he really cares about you, and that was a big draw for me when I came to NDSU,” she said. “I stepped on campus and I felt so comfortable, he and Jamie did a phenomenal job of really creating a family. Darren has kept that going; he cares about you so much and he knows how to coach players on what they need. He also knows how to bring in other coaches, he knows what compliments his coaching style.”
While departing NDSU in 2014 was challenging for Farnam, she was ready for something new. She was working at Scheels in Fargo when she decided she was striving for something more. That was when she sought out more information about Bell Bank. “I was wanting something different. I had recognized Bell, but for me, I was looking for a really great company and a place with a lot of growth opportunities,” she said. “Then, I found Bell and that is kind of their motto. I really found a home here at Bell, and it’s just a great family work environment.”
As they say, the rest is history. Farnam has worked at Bell Bank as the Mortgage Operations Assistant Manager since 2015. She says she sees plenty of parallels between Bell and her time at NDSU. “It is important to have a family setting and a family environment. A lot of the employees are very proud to work at Bell. I work in the real estate division, and I have a great team and we work really hard and try to be the best that we can be for our customers,” she said. “It does correlate to what I had at NDSU where you’re demanding a lot from yourself.”
Yet, Farnam remains heavily involved in the sport that offered her so much. She currently sits on the board of directors for the North Dakota Softball All-Stars. They plan and execute a yearly series with the best high school players in the state. Their goal is to bring more exposure to North Dakota softball and its players. “We meet several times a year and we go over what went well the year before and what we can work on,” she says of the board of directors. “We really just try to make it an enjoyable experience and get more exposure for these athletes.”
For Farnam, having a hand in the all-star series keeps her connected to a sport she wants to help grow in the state. “I love having a connection to softball; it’s a huge part of my life,” she said. “I like being able to have a different role. Softball in North Dakota is still growing and building, but for me, it’s really important to make sure softball continues to grow.”
Andi Farnam may be one of the most revered pitchers in recent memory at North Dakota State. Not only did she pace one of the most unlikely runs in collegiate softball, she spearheaded it. When we speak about “program-defining moments,” one cannot help but bring up the 2009 run to the Super Regional. Andi Farnam was a vital part of those defining moments in Bison softball history.
She continues to pour herself out for the sport of softball, too. The game gave her so much and provided so many avenues, she feels it’s necessary to give back to the sport that made her who she is today.
In that sense, Andi Farnam is no longer creating “program-defining moments”, but “life-changing moments” for future generations of North Dakota softball players.