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Valley Sports Report
ITHACA "" Waverly senior Wendi Hammond certainly knew how to celebrate her 18th birthday.

Hammond struck out 20, and belted a crucial three-run home run to lead state-ranked Waverly to a 6-3 win over Marathon here Wednesday in the semifinals of the IAC softball championships at Cornell University's Niemand-Robinson Field.

The Lady Wolverines, now 15-1 and ranked second in Class B in New York State, will square off with Edison, which edged Notre Dame, 1-0, in the other semifinal game, Thursday at 5 p.m. in the championship game.

"She's geared for these games. She wanted the ball in her hands, and I think the team felt that, too," said Waverly coach Brian Wendela. "What a performance, 20 strikeouts is amazing."

Waverly has not played since May 3, and has played just one game since April 26.

"I felt pretty good coming in," said Hammond. "We've had a lot of time off, so I had a lot of time to prepare. It's probably as fresh as I've felt since the beginning of the season."

Wendela said the time off didn't really help the rest of his team.

"I don't like making excuses, but I think there was a little bit of rust, and a little bit of nerves - knowing the magnitude of the game, and playing at Cornell got to us a little bit," said Wendela.

"I think we have three errors all year, and made four or five today," he added.

Hammond started the game with an "immaculate inning," which is three strikeouts on nine pitches, and also struck out the fourth batter on three pitches. She fanned the first 12 batters she faced.

Marathon ace Breanna Mitchell couldn't keep up with Hammond's strikeout pace, but she matched zeroes on the scoreboard through four innings, allowing only a first-inning single to Riley Hall.

In the top of fifth inning, Kristi Walley broke up Hammond's no-hitter with a line-drive single into right field. With one out, Walley stole second, and took third on an errant throw. The throw from the outfield was also offline as well, and Walley broke for home - colliding with a Waverly infielder as she rounded third in the process.

Walley was thrown out at home, but the call was overturned due to interference with the runner, giving Marathon a 1-0 lead.

Hammond struck out the next two batters to end the inning, giving her 15 through five innings.

In the home half of the fifth inning, junior Morgan Adams worked a walk, and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore Alyssa Sindoni.

Senior Kari VanAllen then fouled off three pitches on a 1-2 count on her way to an eight-pitch walk to put runners on first and second. The runners moved up when an infield pop up - ruled an infield fly - was dropped.

Two pitches later, Hammond drove a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left-center field to give the Lady Wolverines a 3-1 lead.

So what did Hammond enjoy more - 20 strikeouts or the three-run home run?

"Probably the three-run homer," she said. "I think that gave us a big boost, and got us going.

"In the first two at-bats, I knew I was flying out, so I sat down more on my legs and just focused on driving the ball," added Hammond.

"We had a couple runners on and two outs early in the game for Wendi, and she didn't come through, but I knew if we gave her another chance, it was gonna happen," Wendela said.

Wendela agreed VanAllen's at-bat was key in the rally, as well as the at-bats of Sindoni and Morgan.

"It was a huge game for the bottom of our line-up," said Wendela.

Sophomore Hali Jenner re-ignited the rally with a line-drive single to center field. Jenner scored moments late on a throwing error that allowed Hall to reach third base. Junior Paige Lewis capped the rally with an RBI double to make it 5-1.

The Lady Olympians battled back in the top of the sixth, using a "mental miscue" and an error to plate a pair of runs.

Reionna Hopkins led off the inning with a walk, and Molly Merrihew stroked a hard ground-ball single into left field. Mitchell then hit a blooper that landed in the infield dirt behind first base. With a chance at a force play, Waverly's defense faltered and everyone was safe, and Hopkins beat a late throw to the plate to trim the deficit to 5-2.

The Lady Wolverines averted a possible big inning by Marathon when Hall gunned down Merrihew trying to steal third base. Hammond then recorded a strikeout for the second out of the inning.

Mitchell then ripped an RBI single to right field that skipped off the right fielder and to the fence, allowing Mitchell to reach third.

Hammond avoided any further damage with her 17th strikeout of the game.

Waverly added a run in the home half of the sixth inning on a hard grounder by Hammond with the bases loaded that Marathon third baseman Brie Carter turned into a fielder's choice.

In the top of the seventh, Hammond struck out the side for the sixth time in the game to preserve the win.

Hammond allowed three runs - one earned - on two hits, and one walk.

Hammond homered and had four RBI to pace Waverly's five-hit attack, while Lewis doubled and drove in one run, Jenner and Hall singled and scored one run, Sindoni added a single, and Adams scored two runs.

Mitchell allowed six runs - four earned - on five hits in the loss, while striking out six and walking four.


IN PHOTOS 1-4: Waverly's Wendi Hammond. ... PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.

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