GLENS FALLS - Eighth-grader Olivia Keegan connected on a go-ahead single in the 11th inning to score Erin Austin - propelling Corning to its first-ever state championship Saturday in Glens Falls, defeating Cicero-North Syracuse 4-3.
“These kids kept battling,” Corning head coach Mike Johnston said. “We had opportunities, they battled back. We went to 11 innings. We had kids that had timely hits, sacrifices and moving runners. They just kept believing in what we’re doing and here we are."
Johnston bunted with one out to get Austin in scoring position after her single to set up Keegan's heroics.
“In the last half of the season, I put her in the lineup,” said Johnston of Keegan. “She was getting hit for in the first half of the season, but then we saw something in the cage, that she was making contact with the ball. It gave me confidence in her and she comes through on the biggest stage in New York State. I’m proud of her and what she’s accomplished."
Keegan registered her only hit of the contest in the big moment. The young Hawk wanted to get a clutch hit for her senior leader and ace, Laura Bennett.
“I knew I needed to come through eventually,” said Keegan. “ I knew what I had to do. Laura had been battling the entire game and I wanted her to feel the satisfaction [of a state title] for her last year. She deserves it.”
Bennett was excellent again on the mound for the Hawks, registering nine punchouts in 11 innings of work in her last game in a Corning uniform.
“I’m really happy and I’m proud of everyone,” said Bennett. “Corning’s never been to the Final Four, let alone states for softball, so I’m really proud of everyone.”
Cicero-North Syracuse’s best chance to take the lead came In the bottom of the 10th, when it got the first two runners on base with back-to-back singles.
The next batter, Brooke Nicalous, lined a shot at third baseman Mikayla Brucie - who caught it and doubled off the runner at second and Bennett got the next batter to fly out to left field.
“We always say, ‘some people apply pressure and some people feel it,’ and for that, you just have to take it and know how to handle it,” said Bennett of the inning.
Corning got off to a flying start in the first inning when Atalyia Rijo blasted a leadoff home run to right field. Rijo had three hits on the day, including a bid for a second home run in the 10th inning that was caught over the fence.
Cicero-North Syracuse responded with two runs in the bottom of the first inning on an RBI triple off the bat of Brandi Freeney and an Ally Cifaratta RBI single.
The Hawks added two runs in the fourth inning on an Ellie Daugherty home run and a Northstars error.
Jordyn Maldonado tied the score at three with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning.
Cicero-North Syracuse stranded 23 on base in large part to the pitching of Bennett.
"Laura is a battler, she going on to LeMoyne, which is my alma mater, and I'm proud of her," said Johnston holding back tears.
Johnston won the state title for the first time in his 29-year coaching career and only his third year as head coach of the Hawks program.
“You dream of this day as a coach,” said Johnston. “I’ve got so many really great friends that are really great coaches that never get this opportunity. I think that I can retire tomorrow and be really happy.”
Corning reached the finals after a 3-1 victory over East Meadow in the semifinals. Erin Austin connected on a home run and Jasmyn Allyn and Laura Bennett had RBI singles.
Bennett had eight strikeouts and allowed only five hits and one run in the semifinal effort.