CORNING - Section 4 champion Corning will make a three-hour journey to face off against Section 9 champion Warwick at 7 p.m. today at Middletown High School in the sub-regional round of the NYSPHSAA playoffs.
The Hawks are on a roll, winning eight of their last nine games and handily defeated No. 4-seeded Elmira 14-1 in the Section 4, Class AA title game.
Warwick came into the Section 9 tournament as a fourth seed and knocked off No. 5-seeded Valley Central 7-6, and then proceeded to get past the top-ranked team in New York State, Monroe Woodbury, 5-1. They then topped No. 3-seeded Middletown 4-0 in the sectional finals.
Corning head coach Mike Johnston has done his due diligence to figure out what his team is up against.
“We’ve embraced technology in this day and age, gotten online and have done some research,” he said. “I know they’ve come on strong at the end of the season. They are a team that’s getting hot at the right time and that’s why they’re one of the remaining teams.”
After a 14-run, 12-hit explosion against Elmira, replicating that performance from the bats will be key for Corning -- along with ace Laura Bennett.
“I think we have to have timely hitting,” said Johnston. “I think that we need to execute. We put it on our players. We believe execution is on the player and we stress moving runners. We’ve got to get a strong performance on the mound from Laura again and we’re really confident in her abilities.”
It’s not hard to see why Johnston is confident in the senior Le Moyne commit.
Bennett has allowed only seven earned runs in her last 25 innings. Five of those runs came in an 11-inning effort against Maine-Endwell in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference Championship -- Bennett’s third start in three days. Bennett has recorded 30 strikeouts in that timeframe.
Despite Bennett’s extravagant work in the circle, defense will be just as key for success against Warwick.
“Our biggest thing is we need to keep speed off the bases,” said Johnston. “We can’t allow them to get people on and move runners. We can’t solely rely on Laura’s arm.”
Opposing Bennett will likely be sophomore Kadence Schluter. Schluter has been just as effective as Corning’s ace, allowing only four runs in her last 20 innings.
“At the AA level, the highest level of softball in New York State, I think you’re going to get a quality pitcher no matter what,” said Johnston. “I know she throws pretty decent, I’ve talked to people around the state and they say when she’s on, she’s pretty good.”
There’s a feeling-out process with facing a new pitcher, as Schluter will be to Corning.
“The first couple batters that get up, we’re going to try to find out the umpire’s strike zone and what she’s throwing,” said sophomore catcher Kalea Faulk. “Then [we’ll] talk to each other and find out how we’re going to approach her [for the] next at-bat.”
This is the Hawks’ first appearance in the state playoffs since 2012, in which they made it to the regional finals. The winner of this contest will face off against Section I winner John Jay on June 8, the team that topped Corning in 2012.
For now, however, the Hawks are focused on what’s in front of them, and that’s Warwick.
“I think the biggest thing is that we knew that we had an opportunity to make some noise in the playoffs,” said Johnston. “It’s a four-game season right now. The only game that matters is the next one. That’s on us as coaches to get them prepared.”