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The Blackwell Blog

Baseball sectional playoffs primer

As promised, here's a look at the other bit of diamond doings that we head into, the Section III baseball playoffs, with the requisite crossed fingers that the weather will behave and we'll get all of these games in on time.

That's not a small problem. Things went nuts in 2012 when bad weather caused havoc with Class B-2, as the final between Cazenovia and Sherburne-Earlville went through two postponements - one lightning, one rain - before the Lakers finally won it. Those delays gave Westhill, who didn't get postponed, a chance to rest, and bring back its best starter to beat Caz for the overall sectional title.

So everyone, at first, just hope the rain and bad weather hits before and/or after game time. In the meantime, here's a look at the five classes.

Largely, the Class AA story has been defined by C-NS and Baldwinsville. The Northstars were unbeaten before F-M blanked them 2-0 a week ago, but it also knocked off the defending AA champion Bees twice, including a 3-2 classic two night after that defeat to the Hornets.

What's interesting about the AA playoffs is that C-NS could meet F-M again in the semifinals, since the Hornets hold the no. 4 seed and draw Oswego in the quarterfinals. With the Northstars, the strength are not having any weaknesses - a great lineup from 1 to 9, strong defense, a deep pitching rotation and a lights-out relief ace in Will Apps, who twice has put up three-inning stints against B'ville, shutting them down both times.

Even with those losses, B'ville still has the rotation its wants for the playoffs - two helpings of hard-throwing righty Scott Blewett, with a helping of lefty Pat Merryweather in between. The Bees have to first get through Auburn, and then a semifinal with hard-nosed West Genesee or Syracuse East, if it wants that third shot at C-NS - or at least a chance to repeat, anyway.

New Hartford, defending the Class A title, wasn't that impressive in the regular season, going 11-9, but it beat all of its Class foes, so it grabbed the top seed in a 12-team field ahead of many other sides with better records.

The Spartans have a first-round bye, and so does no. 2 seed Watertown, no. 3 seed Cortland and no. 4 seed J-D. But the way this season has gone, literally anyone can win here, depending on who can peak right now. At different times, Cortland, J-D, Homer and CBA all had the hot hand in the OHSL Freedom division, but then would tail off.

Those byes give the Purple Tigers and Red Rams a big advantage, since they won't have to stretch pitching and can spotlight the likes of Brian Hughes (for Cortland) and Ryan McGee (for J-D). At the very start, there's a tasty first-round game between CBA and Bishop Ludden, though the "Holy War" is quite different on a diamond when compared to a basketball court.

Class B didn't split this time, as 15 teams made it, and the Warriors have the top seed. No, not those Warriors, the ones who wear blue, call themselves Westhill, won state titles in 2009 and 2010 and spent parts of the fall and winter in court to fight for J.C. Pena's senior eligibility.

It's the Warriors wearing maroon, calling themselves Clinton, that are on top and gain that all-important first-round bye, awaiting a tricky quarterfinal with Utica-Notre Dame or Sherburne-Earlville. Clinton will go as far as pitchers Anthony Rizzo and Steve Ford take them.

But how far? Solvay,the no. 4 seed, roars into the playoffs with an 11-game win streak having shared the OHSL Liberty National division title (its first since 1985) with Cazenovia, the no. 5 seed, whose own share of the league title was the first it ever achieved. Both the Bearcats and Lakers are quite capable of getting to the finals.

Still, who can stop Westhill? Even with an extra round to go through, the Warriors, holding the no. 2 seed, still have Pena (who struck out 21 in a nine-inning game this year) and ace Ben Walsh, whose 2013 resume includes a no-hitter and three one-hitters. No. 3 seed VVS is a unit that can hit plenty and pitch with confidence, but the Red Devils' independent status meant a schedule that, perhaps, wasn't as taxing as they once faced in the Tri-Valley League.

Class C had 20 teams qualify, so that meant a split. In C-1, Little Falls, at 15-3, sits on top, but they have to share favorite status with defending champion South Lewis, who didn't tail off one bit from 2012, the Falcons featuring six guys hitting .400 or better, including Jason Martin, who bats .557 and has won seven games as a pitcher. Sauquoit Valley, as the no. 3 seed, has a terrific quarterfinal against Watertown IHC right off the bat.

Moving to C-2, the central story is whether Fabius-Pompey can maintain its title from main challenger Bishop Grimes. The Falcons beat the Cobras in the sectional final one year ago, but Grimes prevailed 6-0 when they met this spring, Ryan Martin blanking F-P. Beaver River, the no. 3 seed, and Cooperstown, the no. 4 seed, have strong sides, but it would take a great effort to keep Grimes and F-P from getting together once more.

Just as with Class B, there's 15 teams vying for the Class D sectional title, with only McGraw, the top seed, clear to the quarterfinals. The question, though lingers - did the 15-3 Eagles cruise too easily through the Central Counties League, only to be carved up by the heavies later on?

This is a strong field, with defending champ Oriskany still potent as the no. 3 seed and New York Mills charging in as the no. 2 seed, while Hamilton sits at no. 4, but might have to get through a very tough quarterfinal with Brookfield, at no. 5.

As always with this stuff, every team, regardless of seed, tends to trot out their best pitcher for the first game, so look out for surprises, and perhaps lots of them. If only the rain or storms can hold off.

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