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Clarence claims first team title; Nappo homers in each game, Red Devils win tight final

During the first week of softball practice, Clarence coach Todd Banaszak told his team that he thought there was something special about them.

On the last day of high school softball season, the Red Devils showed the entire state that he was right.

The Red Devils won their first softball championship -- and their school's first team state title in any sport -- with a 3-1 victory over Cicero-North Syracuse in the Class AA championship Saturday afternoon before an estimated 400 at sunny Morse Field.

"This is the best day of my life, easily," said senior captain Tori Nappo. "We've grown up together, we started playing when we were 10, and to be at this point, the best in the state, oh my God."

In a postseason that was marked by Clarence's offensive firepower -- including a 9-5 victory over MacArthur of Section VIII (Nassau County, L.I.) in Saturday morning's semifinal -- it was the quality of its big hits, not the quantity (four), that earned Clarence the championship plaque and completed a 23-1 season.

Nappo, the Canisius College-bound senior, blasted a game-tying home run -- her second of the day -- in the fourth inning while sophomore Moriah Harris and junior Jill Horvath delivered RBI singles in the bottom of the sixth.

"There are no words to explain it," Harris said. "We just worked our butts off and this is what we've been working for all season."

It is the first time that Section VI has won a softball title since 2006, when Williamsville South won the Class A crown. That was the third title in seven years for the Billies and longtime coach Gerry Gentner, who passed away due to cancer in January.

Banaszak was close friends with Gentner, and the late coach was on his mind after the win.

"There is a softball angel looking down on me," said an emotional Banaszak. "And this one's for you 'Ger.' Maybe he's looking out for me, I don't know."

Gentner would call Banaszak after big games. There would have been quite a phone call after this one.

Clarence's semifinal included an offensive explosion that has become a regular postseason occurrence for the Red Devils, who put up totals of 12, 18, 18 and 18 runs in its previous playoff games. Senior Lauren Muni, the No. 6 batter in the lineup, blasted two home runs well over the left-field fence, including one during a five-run fourth inning that put the Red Devils up, 9-2.

In the final, Clarence got its three runs thanks to three big hits.

After falling behind, 1-0, in the first inning, Clarence was stymied by C-NS junior Sydney O'Hara, who had five of her nine strikeouts in the first two innings. She didn't allow a hit until Nappo blasted a long home run to left to tie the game in the fourth. Nappo, who also homered in the semifinal, fell behind in the count but fouled off some pitches before turning on an inside pitch.

"I knew once I made contact," Nappo said, "it was gone."

In the sixth, Allyssa Dewes, a junior who has committed to Syracuse, led off with a sharp single and she was bunted to second by Mo Rogers. That brought up Nappo, who struck out swinging and slammed her bat to the ground.

With two outs, Harris stroked the ball to left for a single that just dropped in despite a great forward diving attempt by Cassie Franklin.

Dewes beat the throw home and Harris went to second. Horvath followed with another RBI single up the middle to drive in Harris.

After C-NS -- which has now lost three straight state championship games -- scored a run on two hits in the first inning, senior Katie Bull allowed just three hits the rest of the way. She stranded the leadoff runner at third in the sixth and pitched a three-up, three-down seventh to clinch the title.

"It's really difficult to get nervous when you're only down one or two runs because we've been able to get 18, 17, nine runs a game," Bull said. "I've been working really hard in the offseason to go to states -- that was the whole goal of the season."