The difference between going to the state softball semifinals and the end of a season?
On Tuesday, it came down to an inch or two.
Cicero-North Syracuse catcher Lindsey Silfer laid off a tantalizingly close 1-2, two-out pitch in the top of the seventh inning, then lined the next offering from Shenendehowa junior Erika Daigle for a two-run double, igniting a five-run inning and an eventual 7-2 win in the Class AA regional final at Veeder Park.
Returning first-team all-state pitcher Sydney O’Hara gave up a run in the home seventh, then finished off a four-hitter that put the Section III champions into their third straight state semifinal, all at the expense of Section II teams.
The result left the Lady Plainsmen looking at their second and final loss of the 24-game season, one that spoiled their chances of being the first Shenendehowa team to get to the state final four since 2007.
“That one pitch had to miss by an inch or two inches,” said Shenendehowa coach Dan D’Amboise, who did not make an issue of the call.
Had his team gotten out of the inning unscathed, D’Amboise liked his chances with his 2-3-4 hitters due up.
“We’re walking into the dugout, then trying to tie or steal the game,” he said.
Catcher Caitlin Lawson was also hoping for a called third strike.
“It was very close,” said the 11th-grader. “Then, they just kept hitting.”
O’Hara hit a two-run home run in the third inning and retired the first 11 hitters she faced. Briana Swota gave Shenendehowa some life with a solo homer with one out in the fifth, the first hit off O’Hara, a junior who has already committed to Syracuse University.
Sophomore first baseman Taylor Fitzgerald followed with a single, but the rally stalled when, after showing bunt on the first pitch she saw, Aly Kramer hit a grounder directly to C-NS second baseman Sydney Harbaugh, who turned it into a double play.
“After Briana hit the homer, it was completely different in the dugout,” said Lawson. “You start seeing how she’s throwing, and you adjust to it. We did a lot better later in the game.”
“She’s much more consistent now. She’s throwing a little harder,” said C-NS coach Kerry Bennett, who got his 600th win earlier this season, of O’Hara, who beat Bethlehem in the 2011 regional final. “The goal has been trying to get her to pitch more.”
“She’s the best pitcher we’ve seen this year,” D’Amboise conceded. “[Columbia’s] Caitlin Cooper is a really good pitcher, and [Colonie’s Kelly] Lane is a really good pitcher.
“This kid had a screwball that really moved in on our hands. That’s something we really hadn’t seen. She got a lot of strikeouts at the beginning, but we caught up to her at the end of the game. We were having better at-bats, we were more disciplined at the plate.
“But you knew you had to keep them to one or two [runs]. That was the real challenge.”
Shenendehowa did that for 62⁄3 innings, but the final out proved elusive, as C-NS had four consecutive RBI hits to put the game away.
“I think we’re hitting better, though it didn’t show until the end,” said Bennett, whose teams have lost in the last two state finals. “Hits can be contagious.”
Second baseman Melissa Morgan led off the last of the seventh with a long double in what would be her final at bat in a Shenendehowa uniform. Fitzgerald doubled her in before O’Hara got a comebacker to end the game.
“The first time, I don’t think that we weren’t prepared, but I don’t know if we were expecting her to be that good,” Morgan said of her team’s first time through the lineup against O’Hara. “After the first time through, we were swinging at better pitches.”
“I thought that we hung in well. There’s nothing you can do but rally back. We got one run, but it wasn’t enough.”
Rachel Albrecht struck out nine and threw a three-hitter as Greenwich shut out St. Lawrence Central, 6-0, in a Class C regional semifinal at SUNY-Potsdam.
Dani DeGregory drove in two runs on two triples and two singles, and Ashleigh Maines drove in two with a triple and a single.
Greenwich will play Ticonderoga at 4 p.m. today at SUNY-Plattsburgh with a return to the state semifinals on the line.
Lindsey Sullivan threw a two-hitter as unbeaten South Glens Falls downed Malone Franklin Academy (Section X), 10-0, in a Class A regional semi at the Adirondack Sports Complex in Queensbury.
The Lady Bulldogs play today in Syracuse against Section III champ Jamesville-DeWitt, the winner advancing to Saturday’s state semifinals.
Fort Ann got a two-run double from Kaleigh Foran to highlight a five-run fourh inning, and the Lady Cardinals beat Crown Point (Section VII) in a Class D regional championship game at SUNY-Plattsburgh.
Fort Ann advances to a 9 a.m. state semi Saturday at the ASC against either Section IV champ Deposit or Livingston Manor of Section IX.
CICERO-NORTH SYRACUSE 7,
C-NS 002 000 5 — 7 14 0
Shenendehowa 000 010 1 — 2 4 0
O’Hara and Silfer; O’Hara and Lawson.
SOUTH GLENS FALLS 10,
MALONE FRANKLIN ACADEMY 0
SGF 012 400 3 — 10
Malone 000 000 0 — 0
GREENWICH 6, ST. LAWRENCE 0
St. Lawrence 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Greenwich 001 320 x — 6 9 2
Phayer and Haleigh; Albrecht and M.Linnett.
FORT ANN 9, CROWN POINT 0
Crown Point 000 100 0 — 1
Fort Ann 000 540 x — 9
Macey and Booth; Bailey and Clark.