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High School Softball: Hamburg reaches goal, returns to states

Bridget Hogan pitched a complete-game, as well as contributing at the plate along with a host of teammates in a regional win. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

Hamburg said all of the right things throughout the season, consistently reiterating the cliche, ‘take it one game at a time,’ but all the while the Bulldogs knew the ultimate goal was to get back to the state semifinals and this time, win.

They’ve finally reached the point in which the next game is the state semifinal. Hamburg advanced to this weekend’s Final Four in Queensbury with a 4-1 win over Mercy in the Far West Regional on Tuesday (June 4) at Brockport State College.

“It’s extremely gratifying,” Hamburg head coach Lisa Palma said. “They were the most excited I’ve seen them all year to get this. We’re ready — we don’t want to stop here.”

The Bulldogs used a four-run bottom of the third inning, sparked by a two-RBI drag bunt from Leah Jones, and Bridget Hogan’s pitching and some solid defense behind her did the rest. Senior catcher Sarah Mertowski also remained hot offensively, going 3 for 3, along with calling a good game behind the plate.

Hogan began the third with a hit and fellow senior Kailee Ramaekers reached on an error, before flair hits from both Heather Tighe and Rachel Watson, the second good for a RBI. With one out and the bases loaded, Mertowski came through with a RBI-single which scored what became the game-winning run. Jones followed with that effective drag bunt toward second base.

After Mercy scored one in the first, Hogan held the Section V champion scoreless, striking out six and being the beneficiary of inning-ending double plays in the fifth and sixth. Allison Salerno caught a line drive at third, then doubled a runner off at first and Maddie Tucker tagged out a runner going to second and then made the throw to first. In the seventh, Jones made a running catch in short center.

The two Far West opponents met during the regular season and although Mercy came back to win the game, Palma was encouraged that her team held a 4-1 lead going into the seventh and that was without even pitching their ace Hogan.
Holding the sectional championship plaque are Hamburg captains Allie Salerno, Bridget Hogan and Kailee Ramaekers.(Photo courtesy of David Eckhardt)

Prior to the Far West Regional, for the two days of practice in between the Class A-1 and crossover finals, Palma worked with and stressed to her team the importance of defending against small ball.

She knew Class A-2 champion Starpoint would try to use that style of play to scratch out a few runs against her team, which was perceived to be the major favorite to repeat as a Section VI champion.

And true to form, the Spartans used three bunt singles in the second inning to take a 2-0 lead, which they would hold on to until the bottom of the fifth. But defending state semifinalist Hamburg, which brought back six starters from last year, was a major front-runner for good reason.

The Bulldogs played more small ball themselves this season, but it was a four-run outburst using a string of four solid hits, two for extra bases, and a few Starpoint miscues in the fifth that led to a 4-2 win on Saturday (June 1) at Sunshine Park in West Seneca.

“I was like, ‘we’re not going to get beaten at our own game. That’s what we do,’” Palma said. “I thought that we were a little down in the third inning…The first hit in the fifth was huge and then they threw a few wild pitches. Starpoint is a young team so we had to take advantage of them getting nervous and maybe making some errors. We’ve been there last year — that’s what I was trying to tell them to get them going.”

It worked on Mertowski, one of a number of quality players on the senior-led team sometimes overshadowed by just how good Hogan has been in 2013 and during last year’s run.

Leading off the fifth, Mertowski worked the count on Starpoint’s Allison Block, who had been rolling along, before blasting a shot down the third base line which went off the glove of Bre Clark and wound up a double.

With one out and Mertowski at third, thanks to a wild pitch, Salerno blooped a single into right field to score the senior and cut the deficit to 2-1. Hamburg later strung together consecutive two-out hits to tie the score and take the lead.

Hogan blasted a ball that one-hopped the fence for a double to score Tucker, who had hit into a force play, to tie the score at two. Eighth grader Heather Haberman followed with a rocket to second base which jumped over the defenders glove, scoring pinch-runner Ashley Jablonski for what turned out to be the winning run.

The Bulldogs added an insurance run in the inning as Haberman would come around to score on an infield error on a ground ball from Ramaekers.

“It was all up to my team actually,” Mertowski said. “We had our heads down and we were behind but we came back. We stayed together and never let down. Yeah, we still had confidence…I just battled at the plate and knew I had to do it for my team.”

Hogan did the rest on the mound, finishing off a seven-hitter with four of her 12 strikeouts coming in the final two innings. She stranded two in the sixth and retired the side in order to finish the game. Hogan also reached base all three times she batted, which included two hits and a walk.

After Hogan struck out the first three batters of the game, Starpoint went to Plan B in the second inning, following a lead-off walk to the team’s lone senior Emily Whitman by laying down five straight bunts, three for hits.

Ashley Owens started the bunt parade and she along with Watson would cross the plate in the inning. Mikenna Pelloth and Tori Purucker also bunted for hits. But Hamburg got out of trouble when a fifth bunt that inning was popped up in front of the plate, caught by Mertowski, who fired it to third to complete the double play.

Clark, a junior standout, led the Starpoint offense finishing 2 for 2, including a double, with a walk. Block threw a complete-game, allowing eight hits while striking out eight.

“They’ve been here before; you can tell,” Starpoint head coach Joe Hill said of Hamburg. “They limited the inning that could have been a lot worse for them. And that’s something, for us with four sophomores in the lineup, going into next year, we’ll be able to keep in the back of our heads and remember.”

Palma said playing up a division in ECIC I this year only helped Hamburg in close games like the one against Starpoint and the 5-1 eight-inning win over West Seneca East in the Class A-1 final three days earlier.


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