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Clarence, Hamburg softball teams beat rain and foes

The rain held off long enough at Sunshine Park for two Section VI softball champions to be crowned Saturday.

Mother Nature then suspended play for the day, forcing Eden and Falconer to return to West Seneca at 4 p.m. today to decide the Class B title.

In front of more than 300 spectators scattered across three diamonds, Hamburg (Class A) and Clarence (AA) defended their sectional titles.

Lightning flashed while the Clarence crowd was celebrating, and on the adjacent field, Falconer held a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third and was one out away from ending the inning.

“Perfect timing,” Clarence pitcher Katrina Buczkowski said from the shelter of the dugout as the heavy rain began to pour.

Buczkowski pitched a four-hitter and Moriah Harris drove in the winning runs as The News’ No. 1 large school held off late-charging Lancaster for a 5-3 win.

The Red Devils (21-2) graduated six players from last year’s state championship team, but are returning to the Far West Regional round for the fourth time in six years.

“This is really big for all the new girls that are playing this year to do it ourselves,” said Buczkowski, a junior. “We really came together as a team.”

Clarence opened up a 2-0 lead in the second inning when Buczkowski hit an RBI single and then got driven home by Shelby Dolan.

In the fifth inning, Harris hit a two-run double and Kelsey Henderson came in to score on a fielding error to build the Red Devils’ lead up to 5-0.

With the rain clouds hovering overhead, Lancaster stormed back in the sixth inning. Olivia Jankowski hit a two-run double to right field and then was knocked in by a Breanna Opera single. But then Buczkowski shut the door on Lancaster.

“She never loses her composure out there,” Clarence coach Todd Banaszak said.

Niagara University recruit Bridget Hogan struck out 11 batters in a complete-game win and went 2 for 2 with a walk and two RBIs to lead Hamburg in a 4-2 comeback win over Starpoint in the Class A final.

Trailing by two runs heading in the bottom of the fifth inning, Hamburg (16-4) rallied to score all of its runs.

Sarah Mertowski woke up the Bulldogs bats with a double and was driven home by Maddie Tucker. Hogan then shot a double to the center-field fence that scored Tucker and Heather Haberman. Ally Salerno knocked in Ashley Jablonski, who was courtesy running for Hogan, for the fourth run.

“Sarah Mertowski started it and everyone got the confidence from that,” Hogan said.

“I’m so proud of Sarah,” Hamburg coach Lisa Palma said. “Everyone talks about Bridget, so she’s overshadowed a bit and she doesn’t get a lot of press but she does whatever we ask her to do and she is amazing.”

The Class A-2 champion Spartans laid down three bunt singles in the third inning to build a 2-0 lead. Brianna Clark drew a walk to start things off, and she eventually scored with Ashley Owens on a bunt by Tori Prucker.

“They kept doing small ball and then we got a hold of them and they couldn’t do any more,” Hogan said. “We didn’t really count the innings we had left but we knew we could come back and rally.”

This was the second straight close victory for a Hamburg team that had a smoother sectional playoff run a year ago. Palma said playing in a league with all AA teams during the regular season prepared her team to win the close ones.

“It made us stronger,” she said. “It made us believe in ourselves and we knew that we could come back.”

“This is a huge step,” Hogan said.

Hamburg and Clarence will travel to Brockport on Tuesday to face the Section V Rochester-area champions in Far West Regionals.