Niagara County Community College was the last team to qualify for the Region III tournament in NJCAA Division III baseball.
Then the Thunderwolves went out last weekend and won the tournament to earn their second trip to the Junior College World Series in Tyler, Texas. The Thunderwolves (35-20) open the double-elimination tournament against New Jersey's Gloucester CC (46-9) on Saturday afternoon.
"It's been an up-and-down year," said sixth-year head coach Matt Clingersmith, who played at ECC and Canisius. "Basically we got hot at the right time. We've basically been playing playoff baseball before everyone was. We had to play every game like it was our last to even get into the playoffs."
Their tournament run started when the Thunderwolves split a doubleheader in late April with Broome Community College of Binghamton.
"We lost a game that we shouldn't have to Broome," Clingersmith said. "I told these guys that the dreams and some of the baseball goals they had might end this year. They may never play with each other again. Some of these guys have played little league, high school and came here to play together. This was their last chance to make something memorable out of this. They needed to believe."
And believe they did.
They went on to win three out four games against Erie Community College, their traditional Western New York rival. Then came a sweep of Alfred State, including a 6-0 perfect game victory from sophomore Richard Kowalski of Orchard Park.
While Kowalski was solid on the mound, he recorded only two strikeouts. The perfect game was perfect for the Thunderwolves since it came with a team effort.
"Throwing a perfect game is nearly impossible to do and that's no lie," Clingersmith said. "It's the hardest thing to do in baseball. I've been around the game my whole life and never witnessed one. And he did in in a fashion that didn't have a lot of strikeouts. Our defense worked and it's a perfect example of how our defense has been working."
The Thunderwolves are on a nine-game winning streak, including routing ECC twice in the Region III championship. It marks the second regional title for Niagara CCC. It also won a spot in the Junior College World Series in 2009. But this year's trip has a bit of a different feel.
"This year we're looking to take it game by game and not get overwhelmed," Clingersmith said. "In 2009, our first goal was to get to the World Series. This year, hopefully we'll better represent our college and win one of those games. We're a program on the rise. Everyone says it's luck or we're lucky to win that many games. It's not luck. It's heart and guts and this group has the most heart and guts of any team I've ever coached."
Golabek MAC champ, again
Rob Golabek (Frontier) continued to dominate the Mid-American Conference shot put as the University at Buffalo thrower won his third straight conference title last week. His winning throw of 61 feet, 4.75 inches won the MAC outdoor title by nearly five feet. He also won the 2010 and 2011 outdoor shot put titles and he is a two-time All-American in the event.
Anna Holmes (Pioneer) earned her first MAC title for the Bulls by winning the 400-meter hurdles. She set the school record in the preliminary round and broke her own mark in the finals as her 58.38 time held off Eastern Michigan's Asia Rawls by a hundredth of a second.
Miles Lewis won the men's 200 meters with a time of 21.33 in the final and his teammate, Andre Britton, took second.
In the high jump, freshman John Strickland won the MAC title and broke the UB record, clearing 6-feet-9.50. The previous mark (6-9) was held by Steve Esler, an assistant coach for the Bulls.
Rohloff on All-Star team
Clarence native and St. John Fisher College sophomore Alexandra Rohloff will be part of the USA D-3 Soccer All-Star team in a tour of Brazil that begins Saturday and runs through May 28. Rohloff led the Cardinals with 16 points and seven goals while starting all 17 games last season. St. John Fisher lost in the semifinals of the Empire 8 Conference tournament to eventual champion Stevens Institute of Technology.
Honors and Awards
University at Buffalo freshman Damien David was named the Northeast Region Rookie of the Year by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. David went 25-8 in singles this year and 13-16 in doubles play. He broke school records for most wins in a season and most wins by a freshman.
Also in men's tennis, King's College (Pa.) senior Tim Carroll (Wilson) was named to the All-Freedom Conference squad after going 12-12 in singles and 16-9 in doubles.
In softball, Buffalo State senior shortstop Krystin Lekki (Niagara-Wheatfield) was a first-team selection by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association for the All-Northeast Region. Junior catcher Lindsay Goff was a third-team selection. Lekki lead the State University of New York Athletic Conference in batting (.462), slugging (.846) and on-base percentage (.556). She set a school record with 21 doubles. Goff hit .283 with eight doubles and 11 runs batted in. The Bengals finished the season 20-20 overall and advanced to the SUNYAC playoffs for the 19th time.