AMSTERDAM — Shelby LaMont had hit home runs before, and Sydney Szczepanik had pitched out of jams before, but never with so much on the line.
LaMont drilled a three-run homer in the third inning, and Szczepanik quelled a bases-loaded, seventh-inning threat with a game-clinching strikeout as Amsterdam beat Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake 4-2 in a Section II Class A softball semifinal Thursday at Shuttleworth Park.
Their clutch efforts helped give Amsterdam a crack at its program’s first area championship. The Rams last played for a Section II championship in 1982.
“It would be amazing,” coach Brenden Cetnar said of potentially winning a Section II title. “This is such a good group of kids. They work hard. They listen. They help each other out. We made a few errors today, and it was, ‘Let’s pick each other up.’”
Burnt Hills scored on an error and on Lily Haluska’s third home run of the playoffs. Haluska also doubled, and was in the box when Szczepanik recorded her ninth and final strikeout.
“She got it done,” Cetnar said of his senior pitcher, who allowed six hits and walked two. “That’s two games in a row. She was a little gassed against Mohonasen [in an 8-4 quarterfinal win] and stepped it up.”
The whole group will try to do that once again in the title game Saturday at second-seed South Glens Falls (15-0), which beat third-seed Queensbury (10-5) in Thursday’s other semifinal.
“It would mean the world to us,” Szczepanik said. “It’s been a very unexpected year, that’s for sure. When we stepped on the field we were a little shaky getting it going.”
“In tryouts, everyone was new,” said LaMont, a junior catcher. “We’ve come together and grown as a family, and gotten stronger over time.”
LaMont has shown plenty of pop this spring with nine home runs for the fifth-seeded Rams (12-4). Rosie Sculco hit a one-out single in the third and Gaby Maroto walked, and with two down, LaMont pulled an inside fastball from Cianna Benamati over the right-field fence for a 3-0 Rams lead.
“That definitely uplifted us and made us even more excited to play,” Szczenanik said of LaMont’s homer. “It was great.”
“That’s a game-decider,” Cetnar said. “She [LaMont] has been doing a great job all year.”
Nani Cintron gave Amsterdam a 4-2 lead in the fourth with a sacrifice fly, and Haluska cut the Rams lead in half with her long homer over the center-field fence in the sixth.
“We get fired up under pressure,” Burnt Hills coach Caitlyn Rana said. “At the start of the season, that [4-1 deficit] might have fazed us. Now, they thrive under it.”
Jessica DeLaFleur started the Burnt Hills seventh with a single and, after a pair of force outs, Kate Ramos doubled and Carli Ewing walked to load the bases. Szczepanik then fanned one of the Spartans’ top hitters.
“It was definitely very stressful,” Szczepanik said of the game’s dramatic end. “I was nervous. I threw a curve to end it.”
Szczepanik pitched out of a one-out, runner-on-third situation in the third, and a two-out, runners-on-the-corners threat in the fifth.
Ninth-seeded Burnt Hills (7-8) was going after its third win against a higher seed after beating No. 8 Lansingburgh in the first round 13-1 and No. 1 Averill Park in the quarterfinals 8-2.
“This team is gritty,” Rana said of her cast that includes a handful of promising freshmen, including Haluska and Benamati. “They don’t give up until after the last pitch.”
Benamati surrendered up three hits, struck out seven and walked four.
Amsterdam lost to Niskayuna when it last played for a Section II title in 1982.
“For this group, it would be insane,” LaMont said of a possible area crown. “It will be a tough game, but if the hits come, Sydney is throwing strong and we play defense, I think we have a shot.”
Amsterdam lost to South Glens Falls 6-0 in the Foothills Council season.
“We hang around in games,” Cetnar said. “As long as we do that, we’re in striking distance.”
BULLDOGS WIN, ADVANCE
Deme Kellogg hit a home run and Hannah Breen struck out 10 batters in South Glens Falls’ 7-2 semifinal win against Queensbury.
South Glens Falls had a 3-2 lead, then scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. As part of that four-run frame, Courtney Robarge had a two-RBI triple.
Emma Martens also had two RBIs in the win.
Breen allowed two earned runs and walked none in the complete-game victory. Queensbury managed three hits off Breen, including a home run from Sedona Jones .
AMSTERDAM 4, BURNT HILLS-BALLSTON LAKE 2
Burnt Hills 000 101 0 — 2 6 1
Amsterdam 003 100 x — 4 3 2
SOUTH GLENS FALLS 7, QUEENSBURY 2
Queensbury 020 000 0 — 2 3 4
South Glens Falls 201 040 x — 7 6 0