MOREAU -- After coming so close a year ago, Chatham wasn't about to let the Section II Class C softball championship slip away this time around.
The Panthers built an early lead, then held off a late charge by Lake George to post a 5-3 victory in Tuesday's title game at Moreau Rec.
Chatham (20-2) moves on to regional play and will take on Section VII champion Ticonderoga on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at Moreau Rec. The winner of that game advances to Saturday's regional final against Section X champ St. Lawrence Central at 1 p.m. at SUNY Potsdam.
With the bitterness of last year's loss to Greenville in the Section II title game still fresh in their minds, the Chatham seniors were determined to make amends and bring home the school's first sectional softball title since 2013.
"This is amazing, there are no words to describe the feeling," Chatham senior catcher Brooke-Lyn Doyle said. "Last year we came up short and I did not like that feeling, so I was looking for this feeling right here and it's great."
Doyle's batterymate, senior Jenna Skype, allowed 10 hits, but was able to get the key outs when she needed to most. She finished with four strikeouts and two walks and extended her postseason streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 16 before Lake George pushed across its first run in the top of the fifth.
"There are no words to describe this," Skype said. "We have such a great team this year, we have such a great bond and doing this with them, there is no better feeling than that."
After Lake George put runners on second and third but couldn't score in the top of the first, Chatham came back with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the frame. Doyle singled and Skype doubled to set the Panthers up with two runners in scoring position and no outs. Doyle eventually scored on a ground out and Skype came in on a throwing error to make it a 2-0 game.
Although Skype was pitching well, Chatham coach J.B. Brantley knew two runs wouldn't be enough against a solid hitting team like Lake George.
"We got up 2-0 in the first, but we knew they weren't going to quit," Brantley said. "I knew it wasn't enough and I kept reminding them that throughout the game. I told them if they want to continue to play they'll find a way to win."
"These seniors knew what it was like last year to lose it in the seventh inning and they didn't want to do this. I walked by them in the bottom of the sixth and Jenna was telling Brooke-Lyn, 'the season's not over, I'm not ready to be done playing.' And they both stepped up. I'm proud of them."
Lake George (18-4) finally got to Skype in the fifth. Julia Heunemann led off the inning with a single and Alli Zilm followed with a double to put runners on second and third with nobody out. Alysia Kane laid down a sacrifice bunt, which brought Heunemann home with the Warriors' first run of the game.
Olivia Gates then bunted her way on, but with runners at the corners and just one out, Skype buckled down, getting Rachel Jaeger and Rebecca Jaeger to pop out to end the inning.
"Big fifth inning jam that we got out of and that was big, huge, a game-changer," Brantley said.
Lake George pitcher Rebecca Jaeger settled down after a rocky first inning and didn't allow Chatham another run until the sixth. That's when Doyle and Shirley Harvey singled, setting the stage for Allyssa Rippel, who got all of a Jaeger pitch and drove it to deep left. Warriors' left fielder Madeline Gorey gave an outstanding effort, but the ball skipped off the top of her glove and over the fence for a three-run homer that gave the Panthers a 5-1 advantage.
"In the sixth, we get a couple of runners on and Allyssa hit the home run, and we've been waiting for that all year because she's such a strong, explosive person," Brantley said. "What better time than right then to have the biggest hit of the season. I'm so happy for her. She's a senior and it was great."
Lake George wouldn't go quietly in the seventh. Casey-Lyn Burbo led off with a double and went to third on Gates' single. A double by Rachel Jaeger scored both Burbo and courtesy runner Kane to cut the deficit to 5-3.
But once again, Skye came up big on the mound for Chatham, getting Tyler Bergman to pop out, then after Jaeger was caught trying to steal third, Ava Pushor grounded out to end the game.
"I got a little bit nervous, but I knew we were going to pull it out," Doyle said of Lake George's late rally. "I knew we had it. During the season we pulled through everything and I have a lot of confidence in these girls. They are very good."
Like Doyle, Skype was confident the Panthers would not be denied.
"It's always a little nerve-racking, but even yesterday (Monday) at practice, we all had this feeling and I think we all knew we were going to come through and we did," Skype said.
"Allyssa Rippel's home run put us in a great spot, so a couple of runs weren't going to be a big deal and it ended up working out well."