The two most successful post-season Region III baseball teams of the past half-decade have been Niagara and Herkimer. The two giants battled one another for the championship last season with the Thunder wolves ending the Generals' two-year reign as playoff champs, but Niagara was only re-claiming its championships from a two-year reign of its own from 2012 and 2013.
After five years of Herkimer and Niagara domination at Region III, the Kats just made their move in the hope of being the new giant on the block. There will be no return for Herkimer this season and that is due to one of the greatest Kat comebacks in recent times in both perseverance and magnitude of the contest, with perhaps the best one-word description of the Kats performance as clutch. If there was any team that had Herkimer's number, it was Erie, who beat the Generals in four of five contests this season.
Down 8-1 with just six outs left, Erie not only adjusted their rally caps, but did so in an impressive fashion by scoring eight runs in the eighth inning to take the lead at 9-8 and then held off any comeback aspirations in advancing to the region's final four playoffs.
Some of the help came by way of the Generals by walking two Kat batters and hitting another two by pitch in that historical eighth inning. Those free bases were instrumental in the comeback win, but the real heroes were the four batters that delivered hits with their backs against the wall when their team still trailed significantly with two outs in the eighth. That's when the real magic started.
With Herkimer nursing a five-run lead and needing just a single out to end the inning, Erie's top hitter on the day with three hits – Alex Lopez – belted a single to score Ken Ruggiero and make it an 8-4 game. Kevin Koziol followed that with his second hit of the game – a double – that scored John Seitz and Lopez and drew the Kats within a pair of runs at 8-6.
Marlison Brunken then singled to score Koziol to bring the Kats within a run at 8-7. William Arias in his only at-bat plated a double to knock in the game-winning runs as Brunken and Darin Geska scored. Geska's run which proved to be the game-winning score came as a result of being one of two Kat runners who earned a base when hit by a pitch in the eighth.
Erie then allowed Herkimer's lead batter on base in their last two ups, but that was all the offense the Generals could muster.
The Kats made the most of their return to the playoffs after missing out on the post-season a year ago. Herkimer entered the playoff series against the Kats as the East's top seed and had won 20 of its previous 22 games. The Kats' eight runs in a single inning matched its single-inning season-high as they scored eight against the College of St. Joseph in the seventh inning April 15 in a 15-6 win and eight against Corning in the fourth inning April 26 in a 13-4 win.
The Kats will open the Region Championships as the fourth seed and take on top-seed and nationally-ranked No. 2 Niagara County Community College May 19 at 5 p.m. at Colburn Park on 1160 East Union St. in Newark. Although the game is scheduled for 5 p.m., under tournament rules the host school - Finger Lakes Community College - has the option of changing the order of the first two games with the other game slated for a 2 p.m. start.