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The Blackwell Blog

Softball sectional playoffs primer

The spring sports season is such a whirlwind - games at least six days a week, tournaments, meets, and then more of the same - that settling down and taking stock is, for me, close to impossible.

At last, though, that moment has arrived. We're about to enter the Section III playoffs on the diamonds, and we'll start by assessing the softball picture and what might unfold in the next two weeks.

A couple of weeks ago, everything in Class D changed. To that point, Stockbridge Valley was doing its usual rumble through the Central Counties League, while Oriskany and LaFargeville were rising to prominence.

Then Becca Rogers started pitching again after a month of injury trouble that restricted her to fielding and hitting duties. And just like that, Hamilton, the two-time champs, reclaimed its nobody-is-going-to-stop-us-from-a-threepeat form, winning big every time out as Rogers flirted with no-hitters on a regular basis (getting two of them).

So though Hamilton is the no. 3 seed behind Stockbridge and Oriskany, the Emerald Knights are the team to beat, at least until someone figures out Rogers. LaFargeville and McGraw round out the top five seeds, but Stockbridge, with ace Justiss Usborne and slugger Meriah Beauvais (six home runs), is well-stocked (sorry about the pun) to blaze past them and reach the finals.

Class C split again, and it's a fairly even deal. Cooperstown managed to run the table, 18-0, and that means the top seed in C-1 for the soon-to-be-nicknamed Hawkeyes, who have received tremendous pitching from Nicole Cring, who struck out 204 and recorded the program's first-ever perfect game. Cring also hits near .500 and has seven home runs, while teammate Maggie Hall has gone deep 10 times this spring.

But that doesn't mean it's an easy task for Coop, since South Lewis, a perennial contender and well-tested in the Frontier League, sits at the no. 5 spot and could be dangerous if it gets past Pulaski. Plus, the no. 2 and 3 seeds, Little Falls and Herkimer, know all about Coop through their Center State Conference interactions.

Yet even Coop might take a back seat to Sandy Creek, the defending champions and top seed in C-2. The Comets lost April 17 to APW and have won 16 in a row since, and 13 of them are shutouts, a byproduct of Chelsea Claflin's incredible effort in the pitcher's circle (a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio), strong defense and a lineup where just about everyone hit .300 or better.

How does anyone stop Sandy Creek? Weedsport, the no. 2 seed, and Fabius-Pompey, the no. 3 seed, test out the relative strength of the OHSL Patriot division, as does no. 5 seed Onondaga, with West Canada, the no. 4 seed, in between them. But it would be a total shocker if the Comets are not around when we hit June.

Want to see some offense? Venture out to Solvay, where the Bearcats have gone 17-0 with a roster that is downright terrifying. Chelsie Delperuto is threatening .600. Three others bat above .500, including the Gardner sisters, Jackie (who also pitches) and Julie, while Nicole Antonacci, the leadoff hitter, has four round-trippers, rare power from that top spot.

This is what the rest of the 15-team Class B field has to deal with, starting with Westhill or Cazenovia in the quarterfinals. For those that love surprises, Jordan Sheridan and CBA are a no. 11 seed....just like they were in 2012, when the Brothers shocked the Bearcats en route to its first-ever sectional banner.

CBA doesn't seem as strong this time, though, so the more likely challengers include hard-hitting no. 2 seed Adirondack, plus the North Country trio of South Jefferson, General Brown and APW, who played through a tough schedule and hold the 3 through 5 slots. Solvay is driven, though, after that semifinal defeat a year ago, and might just hit their way to the title.

Among the Solvay conquests was Oneida, which was particularly impressive. After an opening defeat to Herkimer, the Indians rattled off 18 in a row, securing the top seed in Class A in the process with a lineup anchored by Jenna Didio and a deep pitching rotation where four different girls have won games, though Ashley Marshall does most of the work.

In its half of the Class A bracket, Oneida might worry most about New Hartford and especially Emily Acquaviva, who has pounded 11 home runs this season, due to familiarity. Of course, the Spartans first have to get through a Fulton side that finished strong, including a 3-2 win over the reigning champs from J-D on May 10.

About those Red Rams, who hold the no. 2 seed. Yes, Kerri Keeler pitches well, and yes, the top of the lineup, anchored by long-time veterans Maddy Devereaux, Maggie Austin, Ashley Thompson and Alexis Kantor, remains solid. Yet J-D seems a bit off from last year's side that went to the state finals, though it's doubtful that Indian River, ESM or Whitesboro have enough to sideline J-D from a return to the finals.

Even more doubtful is seeing anyone get in the way of C-NS in Class AA. With off-season turmoil long behind them, the Northstars have followed a simple mantra - "Finish It" - after going to the state title game three consecutive years and getting beat each time.

That veteran core - SU-bound Sydney O'Hara, Lindsey Silfer, Amy Van Hoven, Kelly Corbin, Morgan Phillps - has helped C-NS roll through most of the challengers, though the run production has slipped a tiny bit in the latter stages of the regular season.

Seeing this, Liverpool, the no. 2 seed, has picked up its energy of late, pitching better and getting plenty of offense from the likes of Alicia Hansen. Vast improvement from the likes of no. 3 Central Square and no. 5 seed Auburn adds some variety, but it's likely that the title will come down to whether Liverpool, or anyone else, can get anything off O'Hara.

In a switch, they've moved the sectional finals to college venues on June 1. The Class AA, A and B finals are at SU, while the C and D title games get played at Le Moyne. Some really great teams might get there, too, so check them out.

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