Not so long ago, the Hamilton softball team reigned over the rest of the Section III Class D crowd, winning three championships in four years from 2001 to '04.
On a sun-filled Monday at the Gillette Road complex in Cicero, the Emerald Knights nearly made it back to the top - but Stockbridge Valley denied them in a 2-1 thriller that was in doubt until the final at-bat.
Despite not getting a hit off Cougars pitching ace Cheyenne Bumpus, Hamilton still had a chance to at least force extra frames in the bottom of the seventh inning.
With two out, Sam Martin beat out a grounder, and a wild throw put her on second base with the tying run. Jenna Whyatt could even it with a single - but Bumpus struck her out to end the game and give the Cougars its third consecutive sectional championship.
All the anticipation about this game centered around Bumpus, who had pitched for Stockbridge since seventh grade, squaring off with Hamilton's own seventh-grade sensation, Rebecca Rogers.
Both were shaky in the first inning. The Cougars staged a two-out rally and went ahead on Nicole Rossi's single, but the Emerald Knights countered when Katie Weeks walked, worked her way to third base through a stolen base and wild pitch, then scored on Jordan Peterson's squeeze bunt.
Then the duel began in earnest. Over the next five innings, Rogers and Bumpus traded zeroes, Stockbridge unable to capitalize on a handful of scoring chances as Bumpus retired 19 in a row at one point.
So it remained 1-1 into the seventh, and when Rogers recorded the first two outs (one on Kaitlin Askew's diving catch in right), it didn't look to change.
Only at this moment did Rogers' youth show. She walked both Marriah Gough and Andrea Rogers, bringing Bumpus to the plate as the youngster met the veteran.
Rogers appeared to win the battle when Bumpus grounded the ball to Peterson. But when Peterson mishandled it, Gough raced home with what proved to be the winning run.
The no-hitter Bumpus threw was the 10th of her varsity career. As Stockbridge moved on to meet defending state champion Afton in the regional final, Hamilton finished a 19-3 season and will see five seniors, including Whyatt, Askew and Martin, depart. Rogers and Peterson lead the returning cast for 2011.