Jun 07, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
With five state championships and a near-miss in 2010 behind them, the Cicero-North Syracuse softball team is two wins away from a perfect season and a sixth state crown.
The Northstars clinched its return to the state Class AA final four on a sun-drenched Tuesday at the Gillette Road complex, using familiar elements from its winning past – like speed and defense – to push past Section II champion Bethlehem 4-1 in the AA regional final.
This state tournament experience was all new to Bethlehem, who prior to this season had not won a sectional title in 33 years. By contrast, CNS was going through it for the third time in four years.
Yet the Northstars did not want the same stress as it had in the Section III final against West Genesee, where it waited until the fifth inning to score all of its runs in a 7-0 victory.
“It’s important to put the pressure on them early,” said catcher Sam Cirillo. “And that’s what we did.”
Indeed, with the game 0-0 in the top of the second inning, Cirillo banged out a double off Bethlehem’s freshman pitcher, Meagan Sullivan. After a sacrifice bunt, courtesy runner Chelsea Szabo raced home when Sarah Salamone singled.
Just as important was what happened in the bottom of the second. With two out, and the Eagles’ Jessie Fleck (running for Sam Smaldone, who walked) on second, Morgan Mazzone singled to short left field. Quickly, the throw came in to Sydney O’Hara, who relayed it to Cirillo, who perfectly blocked the plate to tag Fleck out.
“We work on that play (blocking the plate) a lot, but it’s the first time we got to use it this season,” said Cirillo.
Fired up by preventing Bethlehem from pulling even, CNS struck for two runs in the top of the third. Amy Van Hoven beat out an infield hit, and O’Hara reached base, too, setting up Cirillo’s RBI groundout. Moments later, Morgan Phillips doubled home another run.
Another run came in the fourth, and it was all about speed. Both Lindsey Silfer and Sydney Harbaugh beat out bunt singles, allowing Van Hoven to move them over with a sacrifice bunt and Paul to hit an RBI grounder to make it 4-0.
“I have more fun when we can create runs,” said CNS head coach Kerry Bennett of his “pressure offense”, a staple of so many CNS championship teams in the past.
Just as strong was the defense played by the likes of Kelly Corbin at third base and Jenna Tartaro in center field, as both made fine plays in the field to snuff out possible Bethlehem rallies in the middle innings.
That helped O’Hara blank the Eagles until the seventh, when back-to-back doubles by Cassie Smith and Mikayla Shade gave Bethlhem a run. But O’Hara struck out Mazzeo (her seventh K of the game) and, two outs later, clinched another CNS berth in the state final four.
So on Saturday morning at 9 a.m., the Northstars will meet Niagara-Wheatfield (Section VI) in the state semifinals at the Adirondack Sports Complex in Queensbury. The winner advances to the championship game at 2 p.m.
Cirillo said her team’s experience in last year’s state final four makes them more relaxed for this go-round, as CNS also shoots for a first undefeated run to the season’s biggest prize.