By Greg Klein
---- — SYRACUSE
Chelsea Claflin made her Le Moyne College debut a year early and, other than Cooperstown’s batters, she was the only one who was disappointed in her performance.
“It was great to be on this field for the first time, but I just wish I had played better,” Claflin said after pitching a three-hitter to lead Sandy Creek to a 6-4 win over Cooperstown in the Section Three Class C softball championship game on Saturday.
The Comets senior right-hander, who will play for the Dolphins in college, also had a RBI single. In the circle, she dominated Cooperstown for all but one inning, striking out 13, walking two and hitting one batter.
Claflin had them swinging at rising balls that were too high and curves that were too wide. She had them swinging behind her fastball and way ahead of her change up. She froze six of them on called third strikes, too.
Still, Claflin focused on the one bad inning and the one bad pitch that Nicole Cring hit for a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“My spins were not working as well as they normally do,” she said. “Maybe no one else could see it, but I knew. I just missed that pitch.”
Cring sent it over the wall in left-center field, more than 220 feet from home plate, to give Cooperstown hope after a long, hot afternoon of frustration.
“When she got back to the dugout, I asked her what happened to the curveball,” Sandy Creek coach Bill Fowler said. “She said, ‘It didn’t curve.’”
In the end, it didn’t matter.
Claflin made quick work of the bottom of Cooperstown’s order in the bottom of the seventh inning, following a lineout from No. 7 batter Erin Hascup with back-to-back strikeouts of Catherine Borgstrom and Jennifer Flynn to send Sandy Creek (21-1) back into the state tournament for the second straight season. Hascup, Borgstrom and Flynn combined to go 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts in the title game.
“If only we could have gotten back around to the top of the order, I think we could have gotten to her,” Cooperstown assistant coach Glen Noto said.
The Comets took advantage of two Cooperstown errors to take the lead.
In the third inning, Shania Darling reached base on a pop up to the left side of the infield. Cring called for the ball, but third baseman Lexi Duda kept coming. The two never touched, but they got close enough that Cring lost her concentration and dropped the ball, which took a bounce and rolled into foul territory.
Darling took second on the play and then advanced to third on Kendra Valley’s fielder’s choice. She scored on Claflin’s chopper up the middle.
Claflin stole second before Grace Wallace came on as a courtesy runner. Wallace took third on a wild pitch before scoring on Jordan Miller’s single.
In the fourth inning, Karintha Myslivecek led off with a single to left field. She stole second and third, and then scored when catcher Hascup’s throw bounced past Duda and Maggie Hall and into left field.
“They’re high school girls, they’re going to make mistakes sometimes,” Cooperstown coach Dave Bliss said. “We made two mistakes and it cost us. They made two mistakes and it didn’t hurt them as bad.”
In the fifth, Sandy Creek made it 6-0 with a two-out rally.
Viktoria White singled to right field. Courtesy runner Brittany Valley stole second and scored on Miller’s bloop single that center fielder Alannah Haggerty just missed catching. Miller took second on Haggerty’s throw home and third on a passed ball. Michaela Martin then walked and took second uncontested, setting up Myslivecek for a two-run bloop to right field.
Cooperstown’s rally in the sixth started with a one-out error.
Christina Noto reached when Kendra Valley missed a grounder to third. Haggerty was hit by a pitch before Hall worked a walk to load the bases. Hall’s 16-pitch at-bat included 10 foul balls, several of which were just foul down the left field line.
After Duda struck out, Cring hit the curve that didn’t curve on a 1-1 count to bring Cooperstown back.
“I’m really proud of these girls,” Bliss said. “We got down to a really good team, but our team fought until the end. That’s all you can ask for.”
Going into the game, Sandy Creek had given up five runs all season and none of them were earned. But even after Cring’s sixth-inning slam, Claflin said she wasn’t concerned.
“My team makes plays, so I knew we would be fine,” she said.
Fowler said he put his faith into his pitcher.
“She hits her spots well. She can move the ball in. She can move the ball out. Pitchers that can do that well are hard to hit,” he said. “Chelsea is really good at that. Hopefully this is the first of many good games she has on this field.
“We beat a good team today,” he continued. “They have a good pitcher, too, and they have some really good batters. A couple of at-bats that their batters had shows what a good team they are.”
Cring, who went 2-for-3, struck out two, walked one and scattered eight hits for Cooperstown (21-1).
Cring, Haggerty, Duda and Hascup and starting left fielder Noelle Palmatier are among six players set to graduate from a program that won its first Center State Conference division championship and its first Section Three Class C-1 title this season.
“We’re hoping to reload,” Bliss said. “We have a good nucleus coming back. We have two strong pitchers for next year with Ellen Vibbard coming back and Maria Noto moving up. I think we have a good shot at being right back here next year.
“You hate to lose,” he continued, “but I think going undefeated in the regular season, going 21-1, winning a league title for the first time in our history and winning a section tournament for the first time is a lot to be proud of.”
Sandy Creek 6, Cooperstown 4
SECTION THREE CLASS C
Championship at Le Moyne
Sandy Creek 002 130 0 - 6 8 2
Cooperstown 000 004 0 - 4 3 2
Chelsea Claflin (W,14-1) and Viktoria White. Nicole Cring (L,20-1) and Erin Hascup. 2B: Maggie Hall (C), Kylee Martin (S), Shania Darling (S). HR: Nicole Cring (C).