The Oriskany softball team knew it was facing a tough challenge on Wednesday as it squared off against one of the Center State Conference’s elite pitchers in Hamilton ace Becca Rogers, with a berth in the Section III Class D championship at stake.
What the Lady Redskins weren’t expecting was for Rogers to lead the way on the offensive end, too.
Oriskany was baffled by Rogers’ command throughout the semifinal contest as she struck out 15 during a complete-game effort, and she also helped herself at the plate with three hits and five RBIs in leading the top-seeded Emerald Knights to an 8-6 win at Kost Field.
As it turned out, the winners needed Rogers’ contributions at the dish as well as her work on the mound as they staved off a four-run, two-out rally by the Lady Redskins in the top of the seventh.
"I was getting a little bit tired, but I wasn’t hitting my spots like I was in the first couple of innings," said Rogers, who came into the game with an earned run average of 0.46 this season. "You do get a little comfortable with a big lead. It’s more comforting to have a big lead than it is having a really close game, but I like having a really close game because you have to hit your spots."
Defending Class D champion and 19-1 overall Hamilton will return to the final to battle Alexandria Bay on Saturday at Hopkins Road Park in Liverpool at 4:30 p.m.
Hamilton put the game away with some big hits in the last two innings against Oriskany starter pitcher Meghan Carlo.
A two-run double to right center field by Rogers in the fifth broke a 2-2 tie, and the Emerald Knights added four more runs in the sixth during an outburst which featured two-run singles by Rogers and Katie Weeks.
Carlo threw six innings while giving up 11 hits and finished with five strikeouts.
"She pitched a good game. They’ve just got good hitters," said Oriskany coach Eric Enos. "They got clutch hits when they needed them with runners in scoring position. They’re good. It’s not like we got beat by a weaker team."
The Emerald Knights took an early 2-0 lead after capitalizing on two Oriskany errors that led to runs from RBI singles by Kendall Rush in the first and Rogers in the third. During that span, the Oriskany offense was struggling to solve Rogers. The freshman sensation didn’t allow a hit through four innings and struck out nine, including eight of the first nine batters she faced.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the fourth when Oriskany showed some fight after they threw out their second Hamilton baserunner at home plate for the third out when Jess Welsh tried to score off a throwing error.
Soon after in the top of the fifth, the Lady Redskins got back-to-back opening singles from Brandi Zizzi and Savannah Bixler. Rogers, however, responded with two straight strikeouts but threw a passed ball to allow the two runners to go to third and second base. On the next pitch, Carlo capitalized on the miscue when she tagged a two-run single up the middle of the diamond to tie the score up.
The tie though turned out to be short-lived in the sixth when Oriskany committed another error in the field that followed with a base hit by Lauren Weeks and the big two-run blow by Rogers.
"It was huge," said Hamilton head coach Bill Dowsland, referring to Rogers’ double. "It’s a game of momentum, they had it and she answered."
As their chances appeared to have slipped away after the four-run sixth inning by Hamilton, the Lady Redskins refused to give in during the seventh, despite Rogers striking out Ashley Rueger for the inning’s second out as two runners remained on base. Jordan Sahl, though, delivered in the clutch to keep the game alive by bringing in both runners to score on a single. The clean-up hitter Alyssa Balfe followed that up by connecting with an RBI single to score Sahl and also cut the lead to two when she scored off a throwing error to first by the Hamilton third baseman Welsh following a bouncer by Shannon VanShufflin.
Things started to get even more troubling for Hamilton when Rogers walked Zizzi to put the tying run on first, but the Emerald Knights breathed a sigh of relief when Bixler hit a grounder to the shortstop Katie Weeks, who made the tag on the oncoming VanShufflin to end the contest.
"I was happy that we jumped out later at the end and gave us a shot there and get some of those runs back," said Enos. "I just wish we would’ve come out swinging all day the way we did at the end."
The Lady Redskins ended their season with a 17-5 record while also finishing as the runner-up in Division IV of the Center State Conference.