By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — MINISINK VALLEY — Before 20 minutes expired, Tuesday’s Class D state softball quarterfinal was so decidedly tilted in Afton’s favor that the final six innings seemed a mere formality.
The Crimson Knights (21-1) sent 10 batters to the plate during a merry-go-round first inning that produced four runs. Their defense turned in three excellent plays in the bottom of the inning, sending Section Nine champion Livingston Manor back to the field after four pitches.
By game’s end, the scoreboard showed a 13-0 victory for Afton, which advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2010.
“Going back after two years, it’s one of the best feelings,” said junior Payton Cutting, who hit an RBI triple and threw a runner out at first from her right field position during the first inning, and then finished off a combined one-hitter with Cassidy Phillips by throwing three hitless innings.
Next for the Crimson Knights will be a state semifinal at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against Section Three champion Hamilton at the Adirondack Sports Complex in Queensbury. The Emerald Knights (21-2) won, 14-0, Tuesday against Section 10’s Heuvelton in a state quarterfinal, scoring all of their runs over the final three innings.
It’ll mark Hamilton’s second straight appearance in the state semifinals. While winning 16 straight Section Four Class D titles — a streak that ended in 2011 — Afton advanced to the state semifinals 15 times and won five state titles.
“I’ve always wanted to go,” said Afton freshman third baseman Connor Decker, who went 3-for-3 with four RBIs and two runs.
On Saturday, the Crimson Knights will get a first-hand look at sophomore pitching standout Becca Rogers.
“She’s good and she’s been good (for a long time),” Afton coach Cindy Bostelman said of Rogers.
Good doesn’t begin to describe Afton’s start to Tuesday’s game.
Facing Livingston Manor’s Katie Raw, lefty slapper Ashley Rogalski hit a slow roller about three steps left of the circle. Raw fielded it, but her throw was a step late. Rogalski went to second on a passed ball.
After Sierra Palmatier struck out, Cutting hit a towering drive over right fielder Tabby VanWagner. The ball rolled to the fence as Cutting cruised into third with an RBI triple.
“That put their defense right up against the fence,” Bostelman said.
Decker followed with a bouncing single to left that scored Cutting to make it 2-0. Phillips then lined a single to left and Bailey Sherman reached on an infield single to second to load the bases.
After Shakari Coss hit a comebacker that resulted in a forceout at home, Sam Rogalski was hit by a pitch as courtesy runner Karli Conpropst scored. Tanya Hatton then drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-0.
“That was real important to come out right away and strike,” Bostelman said.
But it was the bottom of the inning that showed precisely why Afton’s been one of the top Class D softball teams in the state for close to two decades.
Though Livingston Manor (8-9) was at a noticeable disadvantage when it came to pitching and defense, it did have several hitters who could handle the bat. And the Wildcats proved it in the first inning.
Where their three hitters placed balls in the first inning would have resulted in bases loaded with no outs against many teams.
Speedy leadoff hitter Imani Miranda dropped a bunt toward third. Afton’s Decker got to it quickly and then flashed her powerful throwing arm to get Miranda by a half-step.
No. 2 hitter Jami Sedlacek followed with a hard groundball a few steps left of second base. Shortstop Ashley Rogalski shuffled her feet quickly to the left, stayed down to field it and then zipped a liner to first baseman Hatton to get Sedlacek.
After Sam Scott took a first-pitch strike from Phillips, she lined what appeared to be a single to right. But Cutting fielded it on a hop and threw to first for the out.
Four pitches and three very impressive outs.
“We’ve worked really hard defensively,” Cutting said. “That’s what we’ve focused on and it’s definitely helped.”
“Our defense is really tight,” she said. “Today, we had good, tight defense and we put the bat on the ball.”
Decker contributed an RBI single in the second inning and then hit a two-run single during Afton’s six-run third. Coss also had an RBI in the inning, which included two of LM’s four errors.
Sherman capped the scoring with a two-run double off the left-field fence in the fifth.
“I just felt we were on fire and we knew what we were doing,” Decker said. “We just executed every time.”
Phillips followed her two-hitter in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Deposit in the Section Four final by retiring 12 of the 13 batters she faced. She struck out three, walked none and allowed only a bunt single toward first by Miranda to start the fourth inning.
Cutting’s three innings included five strikeouts and no walks. Scott was the lone batter to reach against Cutting, that coming when Hatton misplayed a grounder with one out in the seventh.
“It’s definitely good having two pitchers who can come in and shut down a team,” Cutting said. “It’s a good feeling going into the state semifinals.”
Phillips also had three hits, and Ashley Rogalski and Sherman finished with two hits apiece.
Afton 13, Livingston Manor 0
CLASS D STATE QUARTERFINAL
at Minisink Valley
Number before team indicates section
4-Afton 416 020 0 - 13 12 2
9-Lvngston Manor 000 000 0 - 0 1 4
Cassidy Phillips (W), Payton Cutting (5) and Bailey Sherman, Karli Conpropst (5). Katie Raw (L), Sam Scott (7) and Imani Miranda. 2B: Bailey Sherman (A). 3B: Payton Cutting (A).
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.