By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
EAST SYRACUSE — Section III champ Oneida, ranked second in the state, answered Wendi Hammond’s home run in the top of the fourth inning with two runs in the home half of the inning to take the lead for good en route to a 3-1 win over Waverly in the quarterfinals of the New York State Class C softball playoffs here Friday evening at Carrier Park.
Hammond and Oneida ace Kyra Shlotzhauer — both first-team all-state pitchers last year — matched zeroes in the pitcher’s circle through the first two innings, before Hammond flashed her opposite-field power in the top of the third inning with a long drive over the right-center field fence to give the Lady Wolverines — ranked fifth in the state — a 1-0 lead.
“I’m thinking ‘here we go again,’” said Waverly coach Brian Wendela. “She put us on the board, up 1-0 and that’s huge in this kind of game.
“It was a huge hit, and I really liked our chances at that point, but we had a couple of hiccups on defense — made a couple of mental mistakes that cost us,” he added.
In the bottom of the third, Hammond hit Adriana Chapa with a pitch to start the inning, and Mary Robello laid down a perfect bunt to move Chapa to second base.
Lead-off Kaylin Curro then slapped a 3-2 pitch through the hole at shortstop, vacated by Waverly’s defense to cover third base on a potential bunt, to tie the game at 1-1.
“That was a great at-bat, (Curro) battled and was able to slap it right where she needed to,” said Wendela in reference to her seven-pitch at-bat.
After a line-drive single to left field by Lauren Skibitski put runners at first and second, Sydney Lusher grounded out to first baseman Paige Lewis, who was playing in and well off the bag. As Lewis raced to first for the force, Curro round third base hard, forcing Lewis to throw home, but the throw caromed off the glove of catcher Riley Hall, and Curro was able to score to give the Lady Indians a 2-1 lead.
“Hats off to coach Curro, (Oneida) is a very well-coached team,” said Wendela.
“His girls to put the ball in play, and we have to do two things — we have to field the ball, and make a play; and we didn’t make that play,” added Wendela.
Lewis led off the top of the fourth inning with a single to right field, and was bunted to second by junior Morgan Lee, but a pair of strikeouts by Shlotzhauer ended the threat.
After striking out the first two Waverly batters in the top of the fifth inning, Shlotzhauer threw four pitches well wide of the plate to walk Hammond, then notched her third strikeout to end the inning.
Oneida added an insurance run in the home half of the fifth inning on an RBI single by Skibitski, but a strong relay throw from shortstop Morgan Adams to Hall at the plate cut down another runner to keep the score at 3-1.
Shlotzhauer retired Waverly in order in the sixth, and pitched around a hit batsman in the seventh inning to preserve the win.
“We haven’t been in this spot before, there’s some inexperience and it showed at times,” said Wendela.. “I also think there the nerves got to us a little bit.”
Hammond’s solo home run accounted for Waverly’s only run, and Hall, Lewis, and Adams accounted for the Lady Wolverines’ other three hits.
Hammond was tagged with the loss, allowing three runs — two earned — on five hits, while striking out six and walking four. She threw 122 pitches in six innings.
Shlotzhauer earned the win, allowing one run on four hits, while striking out 11 and walking just one. She threw 101 pitches in seven innings.
The Wolverines end the 2019 campaign with an 18-3 record, a division title, an overall IAC Large School title, and the program’s first-ever Section IV title.
“The softball program started in 1977 and this (the program’s first state playoff game) was 42 years in the making,” said Wendela “This has to be the best softball team to ever come out of Waverly.
“And, this was the most fun I’ve ever had coaching any sport, or any group of kids.
“They made history, and have something to be very proud of,” he added
Waverly will also graduate a trio of starters in Hammond and fellow starters Kari VanAllen and Sydney Meyers.
Wendela notes Hammond will be impossible to replace.
“No doubt about it, (Wendi Hammond) is the best player to ever come out of the program,” he said.
“She leads by example, and has been a coach on the field for us,” he noted. “She is irreplaceable and will be sorely misses.
“She has totally re-written the Waverly record book,” added Wendela.
(CLICK HERE FOR 12 MORE PHOTOS)
IN PHOTO 1: Waverly senior Wendi Hammond watches her home run fly over the right-center field fence. … PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.
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