QUEENSBURY - The Frewsburg Bears were not to be denied.
Not for a third time. Not this team.
Behind the masterful pitching of Sam Mott, timely - very timely, actually - hitting up and down the order and a defense that protected the lead like a grizzly watching over its cub, the Bears captured a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C softball title in dramatic fashion on Saturday when it edged Section 3's Sandy Creek, 2-1, at the Adirondack Sports Complex.
Frewsburg’s Sam Mott, left, shows the ball as the umpire begins to call out Sandy Creek's Kasey Gilbride at the plate during Saturday’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C championship softball game. The out, which was made after a passed ball, was the last in the bottom of the seventh inning and clinched for the Bears’ 2-1 victory. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photos by Rob Tucker
The softball title was the first in school history, and the first in the nearly two-decade tenure of head coach Jon Blanchard.
Oh, and by the way, it was also the 299th career victory for the longtime Frewsburg coach, but here's guessing that that milestone will pale in comparison to this one.
"Wow, can you believe it?" he marveled. "We ran out (onto the field after the win) and I thought, 'I can't believe we just won it.'
"I'm as happy as I can be."
So, too, was the rest of his squad.
"I've wanted this forever," a smiling Shawna Raymond said. "It's so exciting, and words can't explain how proud I am of our team. We've been here before, and (after each loss) we said, 'Next year we're not going to lose!'
"And this year we finally owned up to that. I'm just so excited that in our last year we ended it this way."
Broadly speaking, it certainly was a perfect way to cap the high school careers of the eight seniors (Reyanne Strong, Raymond, Bethany Steele, McKenzie Cass, Alanna Blanchard, Mott, Annie Berg and Bobbi Jo Whippo) on the Frewsburg roster; more narrowly, however, the game itself had a pretty phenomenal finish, too.
With two outs and the Bears maintaining a slim, 2-0 lead in the bottom half of the seventh inning, Sandy Creek's Shania Darling drilled an RBI double down the left-field line, pushing teammate Karintha Myslivecek, who'd drawn a walk to leadoff the frame, across home plate to cut the deficit to one, 2-1.
Mott followed by hitting the next batter to put runners on the corners.
And then came the play that stopped the heart of everyone in attendance.
Mott, dealing to pitching counterpart Chelsea Claflin, tossed an errant pitch that skipped off the glove of batterymate Strong and skidded to the backstop. Strong leapt up and raced to the ball, and Mott, meanwhile, hustled her way to the plate and parked herself in front of it, determined to stop the Sandy Creek runner bearing down on her.
Strong's off-balance throw from the backstop was accurate, Mott's tag was swift and true and the umpire, with a furious pump of his fist, bellowed that the runner was out.
Game over. State title. Frewsburg.
"I don't even know what happened," Mott said. "I just remember throwing that ball, it hitting off Reyanne's glove and me just doing whatever I could to get down in front of the plate to make sure (Darling) couldn't touch it."
She added with a laugh, "I guess I did a pretty good job of that."
Thanks to the play, Mott, who threw six innings in a combined no-hitter with Alanna Blanchard in the semifinal, had earned her second victory of the day, surrendering one run on four hits, one walk and three hit batsman with six strikeouts.
Her two-game, 13-inning line? Four hits allowed, 16 strikeouts, one walk and four hit batters.
"Sam Mott is amazing," Raymond said. "She's been so great, she's carried us, she's been our leader and we're just so proud of her. She deserves it more than any of us."
Not only did Mott excel in the circle, but she also came through with what she called the most memorable hit of her career earlier in the contest; even as Frewsburg, perhaps due to nerves or perhaps due to fatigue, struggled to find its stroke against the hard-throwing right-hander, Claflin, for much of the game.
In fact, Claflin, a senior who scattered just four hits in the loss, fanned eight of the first nine hitters she faced.
The one batter she didn't send down on strikes, however, was Mott, and the Frewsburg senior turned Claflin's rare mistake pitch in the second inning and sent it into the figurative right field bleachers beyond the fence for a solo home run that gave Frewsburg the 1-0 advantage.
"It just felt good," Mott said of the round-tripper. "I haven't done that ever in my high school career, never hit one out. This one felt really good, hit the bat just right and just went. I knew, I watched it and said, 'That's it, that's going.' That's how I want to remember my high school career - that hit and winning a state championship."
But while Mott's dinger gave Frewsburg a lead - one it would never relinquish - it turned out to be Alanna Blanchard's hit some five innings later that was truly the difference maker.
With McKenzie Cass on second - Cass had led off the inning with a walk and Mott followed with a bunt single - Blanchard dug in at the plate with two outs, and promptly slapped Claflin's outside offering the other way for what would become, just a few moments later, the game-winning RBI single.
"(Claflin) had been pitching us away all day," Coach Blanchard said, "and her rise ball was working for her. I told Alanna that she was going away all day and you've just got to push it the other way. She did that and it turned out to be a pretty big hit for us."
Added Alanna Blanchard, "I always tell myself, 'See the ball, hit the ball,' as it's coming in, but honestly I didn't even see it. I just swung and didn't know what happened but everybody started yelling. So it was just kind of like a really surreal moment."
Along with Blanchard and Mott, only Annie Berg would manage to deliver a hit during the battle.
"There are no words to describe how I feel about this right now," Cass said after the victory. "I mean, it's unbelievable, but I was so confident in the team, and I really didn't have a doubt in my mind that we were going to (win)."
In the opening game, Frewsburg got six runs and six hits from its first three batters - Strong, Raymond and Cass - to cruise to a 7-0 victory over Section 11's youthful Pierson/Bridghamton squad.
The Lady Whalers have just one senior and two juniors on their roster. The rest are sophomores, freshman and, believe it or not, eighth-graders.
Strong, hitting leadoff, went 2-for-5 with two runs scored, Raymond and Cass each went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored and Mott and Berg drove in two runs apiece in the victory, which snapped a two-year losing streak for the Bears in the state semifinal round.
Also recording RBIs were Alanna Blanchard, Steele and Karlee Foti, while teammate Emily Hair scored once in the seventh inning after drawing a walk.
Together Mott and Alanna Blanchard tossed a 10-strikeout, one-walk no-hitter and faced just two batters over the minimum.
When Alanna Blanchard fanned the last Lady Whaler to end the game, however, there was little celebration.
"I think that (lack of celebration) after the game showed we were still really focused (on the ultimate goal)," Coach Blanchard said.