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Hamburg softball back in state final four

BROCKPORT — All season, the Hamburg softball team has toted around a sign that they hang from the fence near their dugout. The purple writing on the white metal background reads, “We still believe.”

The Bulldogs still believe, they’re still winning, and they’re still having the same kind of season they had last year: Hamburg is headed back to the state championships.

Senior pitcher Bridget Hogan and the Bulldogs allowed one run early, then scored four in the third inning to take a 4-1 lead they would hold the rest of the game as Hamburg beat Rochester private school Mercy in the Class A Far West Regional at Brockport State.

“It’s just like, ‘We know we can do this,’” Hamburg coach Lisa Palma said of the sign, which was made by Bridget Hogan’s mother, Bev. “Our goal has been, ever since we had our first meeting in January for sign-ups: OK guys, we’re going back to states.”

Hamburg will play in the state semifinals at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Adirondack Sports Complex in Queensbury, located about an hour north of Albany. The Bulldogs will face the winners of today’s playoff in Binghamton between Section I (Westchester County area) champion Tappan Zee and Section IV (Binghamton area) champion Maine-Endwell. The state championship game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday.

Hamburg will be joined in Queensbury by Frewsburg and Pine Valley, which both beat Section V (Rochester area) champions in Far West Regional games in Olean. Frewsburg beat Keshequa, 8-1, to earn a second straight trip to the Class C final four; Pine Valley edged Andover, 2-1, in Class D.

In the other games at Brockport State, Clarence had its bid to defend its Class AA state title end when it fell to Brockport, 1-0; and Falconer fell in a slugfest with Wayland-Cohocton, 7-6.

For Hamburg, it has gone from being a first-time Section VI softball champion last year to a repeat state final four participant.

Mercy took a 1-0 lead in the first. Hogan, who allowed six hits, did not allow more than four batters to come to bat in any inning for the rest of the game and recorded her six strikeouts in the first three innings.

In the bottom of the third, Hamburg came back — as it has several times this postseason.

Hogan led off with a single, and after a strikeout, Kailee Ramaekers reached on what was ruled an error by the third baseman. Heather Tighe singled to load the bases. A soft single to right by Rachel Watson drove in one run, and an infield hit by Sarah Mertowski drove in another to put Hamburg ahead.

The hit that drove in the most runs was not exactly a blast.

Junior lefty Leah Jones sent a push bunt toward second, and the ball rolled past the pitcher, and past the first and second basemen, to drive in two more runs for Hamburg’s 4-1 lead.

“I’m glad I had a team behind me. We needed nine people to win that game,” said Hogan, who is the steward of the Bulldogs’ sign between games. “It comes along every game. It’s in my bag. It’ll be at states, too.”

Clarence lost a one-run game in which it had five hits and stranded eight runners. It had baserunners in every inning but the second, and it got its leadoff hitter in scoring position in the last five innings. The Red Devils just couldn’t break through with a big hit against Brockport sophomore starter Julia DiMartino, who struck out 12 to help the Blue Devils to 22-3.

“She was stifling,” Clarence coach Todd Banaszak said of DiMartino. “She was the best we’ve seen this year. She threw harder than anybody we saw, and she moved it around.”

Clarence had chances right down to the bottom of the seventh inning, when Kelsey Henderson led off with a single and moved to second on a bunt. When Kaycee Fracasso walked, Clarence had runners at first and second, but DiMartino ended the game with a strikeout.

“We moved them over to second, but we just couldn’t get the hit, no one could get the hit to knock that run in,” Banaszak said. “We’ve gotten those hits all year, but we didn’t get them today.

“Who would have thought that graduating what we did, we’d come back and be 21-3 and be to the regionals,” said Banaszak, “but that’s still not good enough for them — they want to win it all.”

Falconer got a huge hit in the top of the fourth inning of the Class B regional when starting pitcher Abby Courtney clobbered a three-run home run that caromed off the tall scoreboard in left field to put the Falcons up, 3-0.

Wayland-Cohocton came back with plenty of big hits of its own, including a three-run homer to right-center by its pitcher, Mackenzie Weber, in the bottom of the fifth. That put Way-Co ahead, 4-3, and it would add three more on an RBI bloop single and two misplays in the sixth.

Falconer got a two-run home run from Kaylei Russell in the top of the seventh, then made it 7-6 on Brianna McFall’s RBI infield single.

The Falcons had runners on first and second with two outs but a fly to left ended the game.

“I can’t be any more proud of these girls,” said Falconer coach J. Paul Lombardo, “especially when it got to 7-3. We used every one of our at-bats and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

In Olean, Frewsburg solved the pitching of Keshequa star Alex Flint and defeated the Indians at Olean Middle School. Coach Jon Blanchard’s Bears broke open a close game with five runs in the top of the sixth inning, handing Keshequa (22-1) and Flint their first loss of the season. Frewsburg (18-5) rapped out six hits and drew three walks from Flint, a senior right-hander who has been an All-State Class C selection in three sports (soccer, basketball and softball).

Pine Valley, which came into the Section VI playoffs as the No. 6 seed, kept its surprising run going by beating Andover. The Panthers of coach Danielle Arnone will face Fort Ann (Section II) on Saturday in Queensbury.