June 5, 2008
Trojans headed to title game
Luety, Hartquist home runs beat Phoenix
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Homer Central senior Stephanie Hartquist hit the decisive home run in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Pheonix in the Section 3 Class A semifinals.
LIVERPOOL — Two swings of the bat and a great running catch in foul territory helped carry Homer Central into the Section 3 Class A softball championship game.
The top-seeded Trojans got solo home runs from Gabby Luety and Stephanie Hartquist, while Janie Gray made a running catch of a fly ball tailing away from her in foul territory for the final out, in a thrilling 2-1 softball win over fourth-seed Phoenix Wednesday at the Hopkins Road Complex in Liverpool.
The Trojans (21-2) will face third-seed New Hartford (19-8), a 5-4 winner over second-seed Oneida (17-7), at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Gillette Road Complex in Cicero.
This will be the third trip to the sectional finals for Homer, who went twice under Cheryl Carboine. The Trojans lost in the 1996 title game, but won the Class B title in 1997, advancing to the NYS Class B semifinals before ending the season at 22-2, the best win-loss record in school history for any varsity sport.
“The girls keep hanging tough,” said Homer coach Cris Colasurdo. “We had a couple of nervous jitters on defense. There were some tense moments, but we hung on.
“When Steph and Gabby see the ball well and connect,” Colasurdo continued, “it goes a long way. They saw the ball well today and it helped that they were the lead-off batter in those innings because that meant there was less of a chance to be walked.”
“It was a very tough loss,” said Coach Casey Jones, whose Phoenix Firebirds finished the season at 23-4. “Both teams played very hard. Both teams executed their plans for the most part. Homer used their power and we played small ball. We just could not get the big hit. I am very proud of our girls and would not change a thing this season. Congratulations to Homer on a fantastic game.
“Jill Murphy pitched a great game,” Jones added, his hurler striking out six Trojans. “She really gutted it out and did everything she could. She is a great pitcher and I am excited to have her back next year.”
Luety (2-for-2) gave Homer a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning as the sophomore catcher lifted the first Murphy pitch over the left-centerfield fence. Jenna Rossi gave it a good effort, but was stopped by the fence.
That would be it until Hartquist (2-for-3) stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Again, it was the first pitch and Hartquist easily cleared the left field fence with a towering shot close to 250 feet.
“I really don’t know what I was thinking,” said Hartquist of the home run swing. “I knew they would try to pitch me outside. She missed her location a little and I liked what I saw. It felt good because it gave us a little more breathing room at the time.
“We are so excited about going to the finals,” Hartquist added. “Phoenix has been right there with us all season. That made the win sweeter. We knew this would be a close game.”
Phoenix and Homer split two OHSL Freedom Division match-ups, each winning on the other’s home field.
“STEPH HARTQUIST is by far the best hitter I have ever seen in my 30 years around this game,” said Jones. “We are not afraid to pitch to her. We pitched to her all year long and she hit us all year long. That is our game. We do not try to avoid the good hitters. We want to challenge them. I did have thoughts of walking her, but she did it again. She is truly a remarkable athlete.”
Homer starting pitcher Halee Riley was cruising with a no-hitter and seven strikeouts. A couple of errors allowed the only Phoenix runners through the first five innings with no runner reaching second base. That all changed in the top of the sixth.
Morgan Billingsley was batting ninth in the Firebirds line-up and she lead off the sixth with a single up the middle. After a flyout, a throwing error allowed pinch-runner Brittany Sims to reach third base and Kassis VanDenburgh was safe at first. The next batter was Sarah Bregg and she reached safe on another Trojan error. Sims scored, VanDenburgh raced to third and Bregg was a second base.
With the deficit on 2-1, Kayleigh Troia hit a fly ball to left field, but McKeanna Riley made a nice catch coming in on the play and the runners were held at second and third. After Halee Riley issued her only walk of the game to load the bases, the senior got her pitching counterpart, Murphy, to fly out to Courtney Rainbow in centerfield to end the inning.
The Trojans threatened in the bottom of the sixth. Hartquist hit a one-out single and moved to second on a passed ball. Luety walked and both runners advanced with stolen bases. Ashley Brown popped up and was called out on interference as she ran between Murphy and Firebird catcher Troia heading to first base. Murphy got another pop-up to end the Homer threat.
Clinging to a one-run lead, the Trojans took the field for the seventh inning. Amanda Mantor led off with a single down the left field line off Luety and Coach Colasurdo decided to make a pitching change. Brown came in to handle the duties, but was greeted by a Gabby Toth single to put runners at first and second.
Billingsley dropped down a nice sacrifice bunt to advance the runner with one out. Brown got the next batter to pop-out to Hartquist at shortstop. With a 2-2 count, VanDenburgh hit a tailing fly ball into foul territory. Gray came racing towards the ball and the junior rightfielder made a nice catch to end the game and send the Trojans into the championship game.
“I WAS WAITING for a ball to come to me,” said Gray. “It was a little scary, but I loved my teammates so much and I was not going to let them down. I am excited that I made the play. I wanted to make the play and win the game.”
“We have accomplished two goals so far,” Gray added. “We wanted to win the division title and we did that. Then we want to reach the sectional final and we have done that. Now, we just want win a sectional title.”
“That was the second big catch Jamie has had against Phoenix this year,” said Colasurdo said. “She made a similar catch in the game at Phoenix. All the outfielders have done a nice job this season of holding runners to singles or keeping runners from advancing.”
For Brown, it was the familiar role of coming in the pitch in relief, but there was much more on the line this time.
“I am really speechless,” the senior said. “ It was amazing. I love this team so much. These girls are my best friends. We really are family.”
“I have faith in all my teammates,” Brown added. “Jamie made a great catch when we needed it. Kenna and Courtney made some nice catches today. Gabby and Steph are great hitters. They are our leaders. Halee has been great all year. She works through everything. She is a real battler and I was glad I could be there to back her up. Everyone has really been a part of this success.”
There will be little time to rest for Homer or New Hartford after Saturday. The Section 3 champion will host the Section 10 champion Monday at 5 p.m. at the Gillette Road Complex and the winner of that game moves on to a showdown at the Adirondack Sports Complex in Glens Falls against the Section 2 champion Wednesday at 4 p.m.
The New York State finals are June 14 at the BAGSAI Complex just outside Binghamton.
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