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Clarence, Hamburg advance to state final four
Red Devil bats keep booming

Clarence and Hamburg are both off to the state championships in softball, and both earned their trips in astounding ways.

Hamburg had a powerful performance from junior pitcher Bridget Hogan pitcher capped off by a fantastic fielding finish, while Clarence continued to just clobber the ball.

Clarence, Western New York's No. 1 large school, racked up four home runs and nine doubles as it rolled to its fourth straight blowout victory with an 18-2 victory over Section V (Rochester area) champion Fairport in the Class AA Far West Regional.

Hamburg's Hogan starred at the mound and the plate, and an outstanding relay play ended the game as the Bulldogs beat defending Class A state champion Pittsford-Mendon, 2-1.

In the third regional game before an estimated combined crowd of 1,000 at Niagara Falls High School, Cleveland Hill fell to Mynderse Academy of Seneca Falls, 13-6, in Class B.

Clarence and Hamburg will move on to Saturday's state final four in Queensbury, located just outside Glens Falls.

Clarence will play Section VIII (Nassau County) champion MacArthur in the Class AA semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday at Morse Field, with the winner advancing to the 3 p.m. state championship.

"You work really hard all year with the kids, and they continuously buy in to what we're doing as a team," said Clarence coach Todd Banaszak. "These kids are bought in right now. They're playing hard, and they have a goal that they've set, and they're getting after it."

It is the third trip to the state final four in the last five years for Clarence, and it didn't take long for the Red Devils to take control of their regional. They scored three in the first with help from some Fairport errors, then added two in the second on a two-run double by senior Tori Nappo for a 5-0 lead.

The hits kept coming -- just as they have during a postseason run that has seen scores of 12-1, 18-5 and 17-5 prior to today's win. The third inning was the only inning the Red Devils did not score. In a six-run fourth, senior Mo Rogers and Nappo hit back-to-back home runs as Clarence sent 10 batters to the plate. Sophomore Moriah Harris had a home run in the fifth, and senior Ally Gay had a two-run shot in the sixth. Senior pitcher Katie Bull struck out four.

"Hitting in this sport is contagious," said Nappo. "And when you have this many girls that can hit the ball, good things are going to happen."

Hamburg continued a season of firsts -- this year's was its first sectional title -- when it plays in the state semifinals for the first time at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Adirondack Sports Complex against an opponent that will be determined at a state quarterfinal being played today (Saturday's final is scheduled for 4:30).

"It's amazing considering Hamburg has never gone before -- we're all so pumped," said Hogan, a junior. "I wanted this so bad. Through school I was just thinking about this game."

The Bulldogs got a great performance from Hogan, who belted a home run to center in the first and doubled in Hamburg's other run in the fifth. She had 12 strikeouts and did not encounter many problems until late. In the sixth, she got a fly out to escape a bases-loaded jam. In the seventh, her defense shined.

Pittsford-Mendon's Anna Merante led off the seventh with a single (she advanced to second on a passed ball) before Hogan struck out the next two batters. Courtney Case then sent a long fly ball to right that caromed off the padding at the top of the fence. Merante came around to score, but Case tried pushing a double into a triple, and the relay -- from sophomore right fielder Leah Jones to junior shortstop Heather Tighe to sophomore third baseman Allison Salerno -- was there in plenty of time for a scintillating game-ending tagout.

"The ball actually went off the yellow part of the fence and I just had to get it as soon as possible," said Jones.

"That last play, for Leah to get that ball in, and get it to Heather and get it to third -- it was pure elation," said Hamburg coach Lisa Palma. "They are mentally sharp. For them to get that ball in -- it was a great job."

Mynderse had lost the last two regional games during Section VI's run of eight straight wins in Class B, but it got off to a fast start against Cleveland Hill. Mynderse scored three runs in the first and followed with four in the second for a 7-2 lead that would balloon later in the game.

Senior Ryan Betz hit two home runs for Cleveland Hill.

"It wasn't our day," said Cleve Hill coach David Hehr. "We talked about [in the postgame huddle] being the ECIC IV champion, the B-2 champion and overall B champion and so many incredible things our program hasn't done until now. We have six seniors, and that's the painful part for us. It's hard to say good-bye to those seniors."