For the first time in my almost seven years as an OBSERVER Sports Reporter no baseball or softball team from the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association will represent Section 6 at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's Final Four.
This means that on my 34th birthday, Saturday, June 14, I will not have to travel hours away to cover a local team. I'm fine with it, but if it meant sacrificing my birthday plans to cover one of the 13 schools the OBSERVER Sports Department covers, in a state Final Four, I would have done it.
There is a running joke in the Sports Department that we cheer for the local teams during the season, but not during the playoffs. It's only a half truth however, we do make the joke, but also enjoy seeing the teams we cover have success and the smiles it brings to the players, coaches, their families and members of their respective communities.
As a Dunkirk Senior High School Class of 1998 alumnae, I had the pleasure of traveling to Binghamton in 2011 to cover my alma mater in the NYSPHSAA Class B baseball Final Four. I left my house at 4:30 a.m. and made it to Binghamton University just in time to see the Marauders begin their game against Section 1's Briarcliff Manor. Dunkirk, which also made it to the Class A Final Four in 2007, lost its game that Saturday afternoon to Briarcliff and I was back in town by 6 p.m. to write a story that I had hoped would have a happier ending.
Two years later, I traveled back to Binghamton to cover the Fredonia Hillbillies in the same Class B Final Four. As a Dunkirk grad, I should have been trying my hardest to put a hex on the hated Hillbillies, but at some point along the way during the 2013 post season, I began to really enjoy the brand of baseball head coach Vince Gullo's team played. They had good, strong senior leadership from Trent Thompson, Zach Buckley, Jude Gardner, Chris Saden and state Class B Player of the Year, Nick Hart, and they just seemed to play the game the right way. As a group, they played hard, they hustled, made the right decisions the majority of the time and, perhaps most importantly, they seemed to play with a purpose - winning a state title.
The Hillbillies breezed past Falconer, JFK, Akron and Tonawanda to win the Sectional title, never once celebrating one victory more than the other. Rather, they acted like they expected to win. Like they had been there and done that. Simply put, they expected to win. And they did.
In the Far West Regional, the Hillbillies had the chance to enact a bit of revenge, as they faced off against Wayland-Cohocton, the team that had put an end to its run to Binghamton in 2012. This time around, Thompson shut down the Golden Eagles and Fredonia was headed back to the Final Four for the fourth time since 2005.
I left earlier for Binghamton this time around, making a stop at my friend Scott Ellman's house in Baldwinsville Friday night, before hitting the road Saturday morning for Union-Endicott High School, where the Hillbillies were scheduled to take on Section 10's Ogdensburg Free Academy at 1 p.m.
After falling behind early, Thompson settled in on the hill and Fredonia made its way back to advance to the title game against Section 3's Clinton. Cam Voss, who continued his dominance of opposing hitters during his junior campaign in 2014, tossed a one-hitter to give the Hillbillies their second Class B crown, the first coming in 2006.
The sheer joy on the players' and coaches' faces will be something that I will remember for a long time, as I'm sure they will too. Like any team championship, a dog pile ensued on the pitcher's mound, as Voss' teammates buried him in celebration.
This year, no local team will be able to enjoy that same sense of accomplishment and joy, but like Chicago Cubs' fans always say, there's always next year.
NOTE: Since 1983 - when the NYSPHSAA began its state baseball tournaments - a Section 6 baseball team has won a state title nine times. Those teams are: Wilson (Class C, 1983 & 1992), Dunkirk (Class B, 1988), Frewsburg (Class D, 1995 & 1996), Falconer (Class C, 2000), Fredonia (Class B, 2006 & 2013) and Pine Valley (Class D, 2007). Seven of the titles won by a Section 6 team have come from the CCAA or its predecessor, the CCIAC.
Also, since 1985 - when the NYSPHSAA began its state softball tournaments - a Section 6 softball team has won a state title nine times. Those teams are: Wilson (Class C, 1986), North Tonawanda (Class A, 1988), Salamanca (Class C, 1999), Williamsville South (Class B, 2000; Class A, 2006), Falconer (Class B, 2005), Clarence (Class AA, 2012), Hamburg (Class A, 2013) and Frewsburg (Class C, 2013). Three of the titles won by a Section 6 team came from the CCAA or its predecessor, the CCIAC.
Information from www.nysphsaa.org was used for this column. Information also may be incomplete, as there were no champions listed on the site in Class B, Class C or Class D for baseball in 1993.