Young and ambitious, both the Jamesville-DeWitt and East Syracuse-Minoa softball teams wanted to reach the Section III Class A championship game - but both would fall one win short of that goal.
Going first in Wednesday's Class A semifinal at Hopkins Road Park in Liverpool, the no. 4 seed Red Rams pushed top seed Phoenix to the wire, only to surrender a late lead and take a 3-2 loss to the Firebirds.
Then, when it was no. 7 seed ESM's turn, it could not stop the offensive surge of no. 6 seed New Hartford, who won the battle of Spartan teams by an 8-4 margin.
J-D knew Phoenix quite well from their regular-season battles in the OHSL Freedom division. The Rams won the first meeting 4-1 on April 11, only to drop the rematch 4-0 on May 9.
For this third and most important encounter, the Rams started Kerri Keeler, who had spent most of the season pitching late in game after Meg Engstrom went first. For five innings, Keeler was superb, only allowing a fourth-inning run - though it left J-D behind 1-0.
Meanwhile, Firebirds ace Brittany Sears rolled until the sixth, when J-D seized a 2-1 lead with a pair of runs. Ashley Thompson reached base and raced home on Maddy Devereaux's hit, and when Mary Young singled (her second hit of the day), Devereaux scored the go-ahead run.
Now it was left to Engstrom to protect that slim lead. However, Phoenix tied it with a run in the bottom of the sixth, and won it when it loaded the bases in the seventh and saw Julia Gilbert's fly ball go untouched past the J-D infielders to score Trisha Hetko.
ESM had already enjoyed a memorable playoff run that included Danielle Ventrone's no-hitter against Camden in the first round and a 2-0 shutout of defending champion and no. 2 seed Oneida in the quarterfinals.