Eight long years since it last got to the top, the Oneida softball team reigns as Section III Class A champions once more.
The Indians' first title since 2001 came Saturday at the Gillette Road complex in Syracuse, where key hits, early and late, plus Beth Kann's steady work on the mound produced a 5-1 conquest of Phoenix.
A large contingent of Oneida fans, clad in orange T-shirts, roared from beginning to end, and had plenty of reason to do so, for the Indians wasted little time taking control against the Firebirds.
Jenn Rougeux had a brilliant at-bat to open the game, waiting out Phoenix ace Jill Murphy for 10 pitches before drawing a walk. Kann then doubled, and Kara Peck drove them both home with a single, giving Oneida a quick 2-0 edge.
Kann, accustomed to piling up double-digit strikeout counts against any foe, could not do it against Phoenix's tough hitters. And an infield hit, stolen base and throwing error put the Firebirds on the board in the bottom of the second -- the first run allowed by Oneida in the playoffs.
Shaking that off, the Indians loaded the bases in the top of the third and used Clare Henry's grounder to plate a run. That 3-1 lead held through the next three innings, as Kann began to get her screwball past hitters -- including a key strikeout of Meghan Barry with a runner on third to end the fifth inning.
Finally, Oneida sealed it in the top of the seventh. With two out and two on, Erika Williams delivered a double to the gap, allowing both runners to come home. Kann's seventh strikeout, of Morgan Billingsley, provided a fitting ending.
The win over Phoenix places Oneida into the state playoffs, and it will face Tuesday's Section II/X winner (Franklin Academy or Lansingburgh) on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Gillette. The winner advances to Saturday's state final four at Waterloo High School.