WEST SENECA - It took Falconer coach Paul Lombardo less than a second to recall the last time he'd coached a team to a sectional crown.
"My last was at Jamestown High School in 1990," he said, "so it's been a while."
Here's betting that 23 years from now the 13 players currently on the Lady Golden Falcons' roster will remember their title, earned Wednesday at Sunshine Park in West Seneca, with similar ease.
Falconer catcher Shannon Gunnell, right, celebrates with a teammate after defeating Royalton-Hartland in the Section 6 Class B-2 softball finals on Wednesday. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
"You don't forget it," Lombardo said with a smile. "You really don't."
Making a memorable postseason run all the moreso yesterday, the sixth-seeded Lady Golden Falcons scored in every inning but one, along the way withstanding a middle-innings rally by their opponents that severely threatened their once comfortable lead, and managed to send yet another better-seeded squad packing - this time it was No. 5 Royalton-Hartland - to clinch, for the second time in three years and the fifth time in the new millennium, a Section 6 Class B-2 title.
"At the beginning of the year I said that the chemistry of these girls was just great," Lombardo said after the victory, which improved his squad within a game of .500 (10-11). "They're a tight-knit group, they don't get down on each other and they boost each other up an awful lot.
"I didn't know how far we could go, but I knew it could be a special season."
And for extending this "special season" at least a few more days - Falconer will take on the Class B-1 champion, Eden, on Saturday at 5 p.m., at Sunshine Park - Lombardo has his so-called "bottom" of the order to thank.
Falconer struck early against the Lady Rams, plating two runs on three hits in the opening frame, one more in the second and then another two - following No. 6 hitter Katie Hines' drive up the middle - in the third to balloon its advantage to 5-0.
But Roy-Hart, which had, like the Lady Golden Falcons, toppled a few teams it wasn't expected to over the past few games, wasn't about to go quietly; and taking advantage of two Falconer fielding errors put three runs on the board in the fourth. An inning later, it pushed one more across, cutting the deficit to one and all but extinguishing any momentum Falconer had held.
Until, that is, eighth-hitter Kaylei Russell stepped up to the plate in the bottom half of the fifth.
With two on, two out and pitcher Brianna Walker just a strike from ending the inning, Russell stepped out of the box, regripped the bat a little higher up the handle and then, on the ensuing pitch, bashed Walker's offering deep into center field. The ball took one hop and hit the fence, driving in both Falconer runners (the first was Hines, who had reached on an error, and the second was Allie Munella, who had drawn a two-out walk) and in an instant recaptured for the Lady Golden Falcons all the confidence and momentum they would need to see the win through.
"We seem to have those one-inning hiccups with our defense," Lombardo said, "but I've talked to them about it, and it's not the falling off the horse that matters, it's how you quickly you get back on that does."
Roy-Hart, down 7-4, couldn't recover and wouldn't get another hit off Falconer pitcher Abby Courtney, who earned the complete-game victory after fanning six, walking one and scattering eight hits, the rest of the way.
"(Kaylei) had a home run that really gave us some insurance against Cleveland Hill (in the quarterfinals), so I knew she could do it again," Lombardo said. "She and Katie (Hines) have been hitting the ball really hard, and they've been driving in some key runs for us. Everybody (talks about) our first five hitters, but we've got some really good girls at the 'bottom' of the order, too."
Led by Russell, who went 2-for-3 with a runs scored and two RBIs, the 6, 7, 8 and 9 hitters combined for four of the squad's eight hits and drove in four runs. Hines went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs, Munella scored once and Kaylee Keith was 1-for-2 with a run scored as well.
Of course, while the bottom half of the order came through late that isn't to say the top half wasn't its usually solid self.
Leadoff hitter Jenna Fellows ripped three singles in four at-bats with a run scored and an RBI while cleanup-hitter Shannon Gunnell hit an RBI double and and an RBI single and scored twice.
All in all, it added up to yet another win and a chance at the overall Class B title.
"We weathered the storm," Lombardo said, "and we're going to see if we can give it one more shot on Saturday."