In the Section II Class AA softball semifinal Wednesday afternoon, Shenendehowa was in familiar territory and Catholic Central was in unfamiliar surroundings.
The Plainsmen showed poise and power, advancing to their seventh Class AA final with an 8-2 win over the Crusaders, who look to return to the final four again next year.
“I told them to just persevere, hang in there and don’t get anxious and we’ll get the job done,” Catholic Central coach John O’Grady said. “We had a good practice all week and we went this far. I think this may be the furthest we have gone in more than 20 years, over 20 years. It’s a pretty good season, we don’t have our heads down at all.”
Shenendehowa (17-1) took advantage of four Crusader errors and produced eight hits against junior pitcher Anna Cochis, supporting their own junior hurler, Erika Daigle along the way.
Plainsmen sophomore Erin Buckley had a busy day, reaching base in all four of her at-bats and scoring three runs along the way.
“I just wanted to get on and move people over too. It worked out,” Buckley said. “Everyone was cheering, they were up and they were getting on to and scoring.”
Buckley put Shenendehowa up in the bottom of the first with her lead-off double to left field and scored on a groundout for the early 1-0 lead.
She was the catalyst again in the third, reaching on a walk and scoring on a fly out by senior captain Melissa Morgan. That started a four-run third that saw Katie O’Gorman, Taylor Fitzgerald and Briana Swota score, building up a 4-0 lead.
Catholic Central answered with two runs in the top of the fourth, finally getting to Plainsmen starter Erika Daigle.
Joelle Giocobbi broke up the no-hit bid with a bloop single to right and Shelton Fenton followed with a single to right. Daigle walked Cochis to load the bases, but struggled with two outs, walking in two runs on free passes to Melissa Barber and Caitlin Whelan, cutting the lead, 5-2.
“I think I just lost focus for those two innings where they scored those runs and walked those people in,” Daigle said. “I just now that I had to focus back in, get the outs, trust my infield and outfield to get the out on anything that got hit.”
Shenendehowa got those two runs back for its starter when Buckley reached on a single to left and O’Gorman reached on an infield single. Both runners came home on Morgan’s two-run double, stretching the lead to 7-2.
“I wanted to make sure I got my hits, we needed a win, make sure I got my hands through the ball and hit the ball up the middle,” Morgan said. “We knew we had to get those runs back and we definitely rallied as a team to get them back and to stay on top.”
Daigle re-focused and allowed just two hits over the next three innings for the semifinal win, advancing the Plainsmen to their seventh Class AA final, facing Guilderland 4:30 p.m. Friday.
She would finish with nine strikeouts, four walks and the win heading into the sectional final.
“I was very impressed with Catholic Central and the way they were ready to play,” Shenendehowa coach Dan D’Amboise said. “They didn’t look nervous, Anna (Cochis) just lost it one time during the game, that hurt her and other than that she was solid. I tip my cap to them.
“They did a good job to win the quarterfinal and did a good job against us, made a game of it for quite a while,” D’Amboise said. “I thought if we were just steady and didn’t get too rattled, didn’t make too many mistakes, didn’t get too nervous we would be O.K. in this game.”
While the win may have been expected for the Plainsmen, the sectional semifinal was another highlight for the Crusaders.
“They don’t give up, they are fighters until the end,” O’Grady said. “We started a few freshmen and we’re going to be good for a while.
“Shenendehowa, you have to give all the credit in the world,” O’Grady said. “They’re a good team. They’re not 15-1 for nothing. I was glad that we were competitive and almost got the job done.”