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Tuesday, March 14, 2017: From long shots a month ago to state semifinalists

   Leading off today: Who are these guys?

   That became the question de jour over the weekend as more boys basketball teams earned their way into the upcoming New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinals in Binghamton.

   Steve Grandin of the New York State Sportswriters Association started looking over the roster of teams advancing and noticed a trend of squads working their way from obscurity to prosperity in the past month.

   In Class AA, for instance, Liverpool and Mount Vernon weren't in our top 12 in the weekly New York State Sportswriters Association ratings. In fact, Westbury wasn't even ranked, checking in as only our eighth-rated Long Island large-school team.

   The situation was even more extreme in Class A -- where Irondequoit was the only semifinalist rated high than 15th and Our Lady of Lourdes didn't even land in the top 15 -- and Class C, where Stony Brook also crashed the party out of nowhere.

   Here's how the semifinals shape up, with the teams' state rankings through Feb. 14:

    • Class AA: Liverpool (#13) vs. Fairport (#4), Mount Vernon (#17) vs. Westbury (honorable mention).

    • Class A: Jamesville-DeWitt (#15) vs. Irondequoit (#2), Our Lady of Lourdes (unranked) vs. Southampton (HM).

    • Class B: Canton (HM) vs. Health Sciences (#22), Center Moriches (#9) vs. Westhill (#2).

    • Class C: Lake George (#21) vs. Northstar Christian (#3), Stony Brook (unranked) vs. Moravia (#15).

    • Class D: Moriah (#3) vs. Franklinville (#7), Harrisville (HM) vs. Newfield (#18).

   Baseball news: I'd been saving up some baseball stuff until we got beyond the last super-busy weekend of the winter sports season. Little did I know that I'd finally get around to rolling it out in what amounts to the dead of New York's winter.

   Anyway, here we go:

   The Journal News reports that the CHSAA has opted to go with pitch-count rules that are a little tougher than the version adopted earlier this year by the NYSPHSAA. Hurlers reaching the high end of the chart for pitches thrown in a day will be required to take four nights or rest in the Catholic High School Athletic Association rather than three.

   Like the NYSPHSAA, the maximum number of pitches allowed in one day in the CHSAA is 105 and any pitcher who reaches the limit in the middle of an at-bat will be allowed to finish that hitter. They will also require coaches to track pitches for both teams and confer every half inning.

   "If you have to rely on one or two pitchers, that's not going to work," Kennedy Catholic coach Bob Fletcher said. "This prevents that. Now you have to have a team of pitchers. You no longer can ride that one guy all the way through, and that's a good thing."

    • Varsity baseball is going on sabbatical at Naples, which for a good many years was a small-school force in Section 5. The Big Green will drop its program for 2017 due to projected low turnout by upperclassmen. Naples graduated eight players from last spring's team and was expecting just two seniors and three juniors for this season, The Daily Messenger reported.

   "The rest of the team would have been freshmen and sophomores," AD Chad Hunt said. "We weren't comfortable ... and didn't think it was real productive to field a varsity team and put kids out there to play baseball with young adults, essentially."

   The future, however, looks relatively bright. Naples will field two modified teams and a junior varsity this spring. "I'm very confident this will be just a year hiatus," said Hunt.

   Softball: Class D Copenhagen and Lyme will not field Frontier League varsity softball teams this spring due to lack of available players.

   Copenhagen coach John Cain said he informed his players of the school's decision Monday. Copenhagen will field only a modified team this year.

   Lyme will field JV and modified teams, varsity co-coach Dan Lawson said.

   Hockey, Part I: Adam Batz had quite the day Sunday. After scoring a goal for Williamsville North in a 3-2 win over Pittsford for the NYSPHSAA Division I championship at HarborCenter, Batz also scored a goal to help the Clarence Mustangs to a 5-3 win over the Schenectady Chargers for the state Tier II U-18 title in Amherst.

   Hockey, Part II: I hate to roll out the ol' excuse about the dog eating my homework, but ...

   I experienced a malfunction -- when the FAA finds the black box, they're sure to rule it pilot error -- on Sunday at the state hockey finals in Buffalo, so a great Q&A with Pelham coach Ed Witz got chewed up by my iPhone.

   The good news is that others were on hand to capture the majority of Witz's post-game thoughts and reflections on the Pelham program. One of those present was Travis Jackson, known to a whole lot of hockey fans on social media as "Five Minute Major."

   Jackson is part of the new generation of non-traditional media that I've mentioned from time to time in the context of New York high school sports. While 5,000 downloads of his downstate-centric hockey podcasts may not sound like an enormous number, there are a lot of traditional print and electronic media sources that have barely made any inroads into podcasting thus far.

   Once I make progress in selling more tile and banner advertising on, podcasting is one of the next initiatives on my want-to-do list.

   You can listen to Jackson's interviews from this past weekend and check out other material on Soundcloud.

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