There isn’t a more important week in the spring season than this one. There are championships being determined nearly every day, and if the matchups feel familiar, they should.
All four of tonight’s boys lacrosse title games are rematches from last year. Five of the six teams playing for Section VI girls lacrosse titles are back from last season. On the baseball diamond, the matchups are as familiar as they get as top rivals compete for both the Monsignor Martin and Section VI championships.
Here’s a rundown of this week’s big games.
The Monsignor Martin’s unique best-of-three championship series is scheduled to start this afternoon at 4 at Coca-Cola Field, with games scheduled to follow at 4 on Wednesday and, if necessary, on Thursday.
St. Joe’s won last year’s championship. Canisius beat St. Joe’s twice this season. Both coaches have been telling their teams the same thing: The past doesn’t matter.
“Our mindset all year has been nothing about repeating or defending, it’s been a whole new quest,” said coach Paul Nasca of St. Joe’s, which last spring swept St. Francis for its first title since 2005. “This year we were building from the beginning towards another opportunity to compete for the championship.”
Canisius is in the championship series for the seventh time in eight years and it has won three of the last four. The Crusaders (17-6) beat St. Joe’s (17-7) twice in four days this year, winning on the road, 7-5, on May 3 before winning at its home field of Delaware Park, 6-2, May 6.
“Want to use it as a positive, but you also have to make sure you ward off any complacency or cockiness,” said Canisius coach Bryan Tenney. “I told them to be confident, don’t be cocky. St. Mary’s beat us twice during the year, and the tables can turn very quickly.”
Tenney referred to Canisius’ 2-1 victory over St. Mary’s in the semifinals; St. Joe’s beat St. Francis, 1-0.
Nasca said St. Joe’s will likely start junior Chris Falk, who pitched the clincher against St. Francis last year. Senior Matt Matre, who is headed to Canisius College, pitched in the semifinals. For Canisius, Tenney said either his son, Colin Tenney, or fellow junior Jose Alemany will start Game One; sophomore Richard Miller pitched a complete game in the semifinals.
Matre has had an excellent season, as has St. Bonaventure signee Jared Baldinelli, who has joined with junior center fielder Phillip Wells to help lead St. Joe’s offensively. Nasca lauded the defense of senior shortstop Trevor Tumiel, who along with second basemen Baldinelli have forged a strong defense in the middle of the infield.
“Tumiel has been the best defensive player in the league all year long,” said Nasca. “With he and Baldinelli, defensively they’ve been catalysts.”
For Canisius, senior catcher Jack Troutman has been a three-year starter and is a link to Canisius’ recent success in the title series.
“He is the only one who has experienced championship victory — as a sophomore,” said Tenney. “Sure, we’ve won three of last four, and that’s nice, but that’s history. Just ask Jack. He wants it as much as anyone.”
There are also two very familiar teams in the marquee championship game in Section VI.
Clarence and Lancaster will play for the Class AA title at 7 p.m. Thursday at Niagara Falls’ Sal Maglie Stadium. Lancaster beat the Red Devils in last year’s semifinals on the way to the championship, ending a run of three straight AA crowns by Clarence. The pair split two tight games in ECIC I play. Clarence has been ranked No. 1 among large schools all season; Lancaster is No. 2.
Clarence coach Dave Smith said that University of Pittsburgh signee Mark Armstrong will take to the mound for the final. Armstrong had 11 strikeouts in a one-hitter that beat Orchard Park in last Friday’s semifinal, and the schedule allows him to go again.
“He’s back for us, but they have two guys and we haven’t scored off either one,” said Smith, referring to juniors Joe Preziuso and Ryan Steckl. “Hopefully we’ll be able to squeeze out a couple more than they do.”
Clarence won the teams’ first meeting on April 30, 2-0, in nine innings after Steckl left after eight. On May 14, Lancaster handed Clarence its first loss of the season, 3-0, behind Preziuso’s four-hitter.
Smith said that Armstrong gets his deserved share of attention, but noted that senior third baseman Mark Materise, senior shortstop Bobby Florio and junior second baseman Bryan Jost “can really field behind him. Part of the reason it’s been difficult to score on us is those three guys.”
Thursday’s championship doubleheader starts with top-seeded and No. 3 large school Williamsville South meeting third-seeded and sixth-ranked Hamburg at 4:30.
In Class B, there is a chance that two teams ranked near the top of the small school poll all season will square off; however No. 2 small school Tonawanda will have to beat Cinderella Springville while No. 1 Fredonia will have to get past Akron.
Tonight’s tripleheader at All High Stadium consists of the same exact matchups from last year, when Orchard Park beat Clarence, 10-8 (they meet for the third straight year at 8 p.m.), in Class A; Hamburg beat Niagara-Wheatfield, 15-7, in Class B; and Silver Creek outscored Akron, 29-15, in Class C (they meet at 5:30). OP swept the season series from Clarence while Silver Creek beat Akron, 20-15, on May 7.
Hamburg and Niagara-Wheatfield start the tripleheader at 3:30 p.m. with a very interesting matchup. Hamburg senior Max Maxwell, who will play at Maryland-Baltimore County, has returned to the lineup after suffering an ankle injury early in the season. Niagara-Wheatfield also has a standout who made a recent return as junior Brennen Ferguson’s play was key in the semifinal. The Syracuse University commit missed much of the season with a hip injury. Hamburg won the teams’ regular season meeting, 14-4, on March 28.
The Monsignor Martin final (4 p.m. at Nichols) is also a repeat from last year as Bishop Timon-St. Jude beat St. Joe’s, 15-8, for its third straight title. The teams split their meetings this year. St. Joe’s won, 13-12, in double overtime on April 29 before Timon roared back with a 15-2 win on May 15.
It is the third straight year that Lancaster and Frontier meet in the Class A final (3:30 p.m. Wednesday) at All High Stadium. Lancaster won last year’s game, 5-4, and this year it has built major momentum in the second half of the season. It has won 14 straight, including two wins over the Falcons, 7-6, on April 25 and 9-4 on May 7 as it eyes a berth in the Far West Regionals.
In Class B, Hamburg aims for its second straight title against West Seneca East (5:30) which won a sectional title in 2010. Hamburg swept the teams’ meetings, 12-9 and 14-4. The Class C game (8 p.m.) has Lake Shore looking to avenge a 16-13, triple-overtime loss to Amherst last year.
The softball schedule is one step behind its fellow spring team sports in that its overall sectional championships are Saturday, with semifinals today and Wednesday. In Class AA, top four seeds have survived. No. 1 large school and top-seeded Clarence has won three of the last five championships. Hamburg is looking to repeat as Class A champion. In Class B, the only returning team in the final four is Depew, which was the No. 1 small school through the regular season.