By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA — If baby steps are what’s required for Oneonta High to climb the softball mountain that is Windsor, then the Yellowjackets took another mini-stride Thursday.
In an error-free game on a cool and windy day, the Black Knights earned their eighth straight win against Oneonta, 1-0, in matchup of Southern Tier Athletic Conference East Division powers.
Windsor (3-0, 3-0) last loss to OHS (2-1, 2-1) on April 29, 2009 — a 2-1 setback. Since then, the Black Knights won a Class B state title in 2011 and advanced to the Class B state semifinals last season.
The Yellowjackets again struggled against Windsor senior Morgan Starley, who was also in the circle when the Black Knights beat OHS by scores of 8-1, 3-0 and 4-0 last season.
Starley threw a three-hitter Thursday. Though she struck out five, Starley kept the Yellowjackets off-balance all afternoon.
“She hit her spots out there just like we knew she would,” OHS coach Randy Brockway said of Starley. “We knew it was a matter of putting the ball in play and unfortunately, we didn’t get the key hits when we needed them.”
OHS sophomore Brieanna Baker was nearly as good Starley. Baker, in her first season as Oneonta’s starting pitcher, struck out seven in a six-hitter.
Aside from one pitch to No. 9 hitter Alexa Cary in the fifth inning, Baker’s powerful right arm kept the Black Knights in check.
With two outs in the fifth, Cary hit an outside fastball the opposite way, driving it to right. Yellowjackets right fielder Emmalee Sloman got a good jump, but her diving attempt fell about a foot short as the ball rolled to the fence. Cary eased into third with a triple.
“She really had a good at-bat and took the ball where it was pitched,” Windsor coach Bill Waldron said of Cary. “Their kid made a pretty valiant effort to make that catch, so that was a break for us. We capitalized on our one opportunity.”
Paige Rauch followed with a single up the middle to score Cary.
“We did pretty well, but they got the one hit, the one run,” said Baker, who combined to strike out 31 batters as Oneonta opened the season with 7-0 wins over Johnson City and Seton Catholic Central. “I’m not going to lie, they have good hitters, but we have good fielders and we’ll get them next time.”
Though the Yellowjackets struggled at the plate, they had better at-bats as the game progressed.
The lone baserunner for OHS through the first four innings came on a two-out walk by Erin Mushtare in the fourth.
But Shelby Cleaveland led Oneonta’s fifth with a lined single to center. Sloman followed with a walk.
Baker then hit a grounder to shortstop Emma Benson, who flipped to third baseman Cary for a forceout. After Alexis Ramsey struck out, Sloman was caught stealing third for the third out.
The next inning, No. 9 hitter Maria DiMartin reached on a bunt-single to short.
Cami Cleaveland followed with the Yellowjackets’ hardest-hit ball. She hit a hard liner, but Windsor center fielder Kylie Buchek was positioned perfectly and barely had to move to catch it.
“That’s just luck,” Brockway said. “If Cami hits it 3 feet one way or the other, it’s probably a run based on who we have running. Credit Cami for hitting a hard-hit ball, but credit Windsor for having us played right.”
DiMartin advanced to second when Mushtare was hit by a pitch, but Brianna Haines grounded out to first to end the inning.
Shelby Cleaveland again singled to center to start Oneonta’s seventh and went to second on a sacrifice by Sloman. Starley then retired Baker on a weak liner to short and got pinch-hitter Ceili Getman on a popout to the catcher to end it.
Oneonta hitters forced Starley to throw 110 pitches.
“I think we got more confidence as the game went on and we got more hits,” said Shelby Cleaveland, who finished 2-for-3. “We’re so excited to see (Starley) again. It’s motivation because they’re one of the best teams.
“Oneonta softball is becoming more and more of a successful program as the years go on,” she continued. “We have nine seniors and we’ve all been working hard since the JV level. To say we can compete with Windsor is saying a lot.”
Starley said she wasn’t surprised Oneonta’s hitters made her work.
“Coming into the game, I knew they were going to be a tough team,” she said. “We played them last year. They’re a good-hitting team and they have a lot of slappers. I figured I’d have to throw a lot of pitches, but I kept my focus on the glove and on my mechanics.”
Windsor 1, Oneonta 0
Windsor 000 010 0 - 1 6 0
Oneonta 000 000 0 - 0 3 0
Morgan Starley (W) and Allison Lockwood. Brieanna Baker (L,2-1) and Erin Mushtare. 3B: Alexa Cary (W).
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.