It's going to be pretty tough to ignore Iroquois softball from here on out.
That's because after years of struggling to attain postseason success, the Chiefs have done nothing but find ways to follow up big wins with triumphs of even more significance this spring.
Tuesday night at Williamsville North, the Chiefs secured their biggest win in decades.
Behind the clutch hitting of Mya Braun, Rachel Yax and fine all-around play of winning pitcher Brooke Plonka, Iroquois scored five times in its half seventh to overcome a one-run deficit and defeat Williamsville East, 6-2, in the Section VI overall Class A final before an estimated 600 at the Williamsville North Athletic Complex.
Yax highlighted a 2-for-4 day with a run-scoring single to center that broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh. Plonka followed with a two-run double and then worked around a one-out single in the bottom of the inning to secure Iroquois' first overall Section VI championship since 1981.
"It was absolutely crazy coming back like that," said Yax, who also scored two runs. "We didn't think we were going to make it this far. … We came back and we fought hard like we're taught to do. Brooke pitched a great game in the circle. Everybody just picked her up at the plate. It was awesome.”
Olean also knows what that championship feeling is like, as the Huskies defeated Eden, 4-1, in the overall Class B final to cap the twin-bill at North. Riding the arm and bat of senior Alyssa Ramarge, the Huskies secured their first trip to Far West Regionals since 2010 by getting the early jump on the Raiders and then fending off their comeback bid.
Both champions advance to Saturday's Far West Regional/New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association quarterfinals at Williamsville East, where they will face Section V counterparts from the Rochester area.
Considering Class A featured plenty of teams with a recent history of going deep in the playoffs – including last year's state runner-up Williamsville East, it's easy to overlook Iroquois. It's even easier to do that considering the Chiefs failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs last year and were on their second coach in as many seasons this year in former Cheektowaga pilot Aaron Vanderlip.
But Iroquois (17-1) had some talent in the fold. That mixed in with hard work and determination has led the Elma-based school into unchartered territory.
"New coaches came in and it's been a whole different attitude this year," said Plonka, who struck out 13 and scattered seven hits. "We just had to believe in each other. We've been taught since day one that if we wanted to do this we could. We're finally buying into it and we finally made it. It's awesome."
Against the area's No. 1 ranked team in Williamsville East (18-4), the Chiefs were awesome when it mattered most. They mounted a two-out rally in the first to take a 1-0 lead when Olivia Simon drew a bases-loaded walk to score Yax. It stayed that way until East pushed two run across in the bottom of the fourth.
Williamsville East's hopes of advancing to its third straight state tournament started slipping away once Madison Hoeflich led off the seventh with a single – Iroquois' first hit since the first inning. After a sacrifice and a walk, Braun drove in the tying run with a single to center. Yax followed with a single to center. Then came Plonka's double.
"What an explosion," Vanderlip said. "Those girls stood in there, hit the ball, drove the ball and scored a bunch of runs.
"I think these girls they were a little disappointed in what they had last year. That was their lofty goal (to win sectionals) and they did it."
So too did Olean even though last year's Class A-2 champion lost five starters from that team. The Huskies bolted to a 4-0 lead and then repelled rally attempts by Eden. They received a couple breaks when two ground-rule doubles resulted in runners who would have easily scored from first for the Raiders needing to stay put at third. Each of those instances, Ramarge made the big pitch to get out of the jam.
Ramarge, perhaps the key returnee from last season, hit a booming RBI triple in the first. She then scored on a squeeze bunt from cleanup batter Elyse Graham. Ramarge doubled to lead off the third and then scored the first of two runs in the inning for Olean (15-7). She also struck out seven in limiting the Raiders to five hits.
"She's just amazing," Olean coach Danny Brooks said of Ramarge. "I've been fortunate to have some great pitchers. She's has to be one of the best. She's a gamer. There's no fear in her."