It is the last week of high school sports in New York State, which means there is usually a Clarence team still playing on a diamond. This year, both of them are.
Clarence’s baseball and softball teams are among the handful of Western New York teams whose spring seasons are still ongoing, and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Either Clarence’s baseball or softball teams have won the Section VI Class AA championships every year since 2007. This year and in 2010 both teams won.
Baseball has five titles in the last seven years, winning in 2007 and taking three straight from 2009-2011 before winning this year. Softball has four championships in the same span: 2008, 2010, 2012 and this year. Last season, softball came home with the state championship.
You have to go back to 2006, when Orchard Park won the baseball title and West Seneca West took softball, that Clarence wasn’t represented in the state Class AA bracket.
“For the last eight or nine years, we’ve both had good programs, good players, committed kids and coaches who work them hard,” said Clarence softball coach Todd Banaszak. “I don’t think we necessarily think about whether either of us are going to win, but we certainly support each other. It’s just hard-working kids, good facilities and good school support.”
Both Red Devil teams will take the field today, along with eight other Section VI diamond champions, for Far West Regional playoff games against the winners of Section V (Rochester area).
Winners of the regional contests will advance to Saturday’s state championships. The softball final four is held at the Adirondack Sports Complex in Queensbury, just north of Glens Falls. Baseball winners will move on to the Binghamton area at Binghamton University (AA), the Binghamton Mets’ NYSEG Field (A), Union-Endicott High (B), Broome Community College (C), and MacArthur Park (D). At both sites, morning semifinals are followed by afternoon finals.
The only other Section VI representative in team sports is Hamburg boys lacrosse, which has another game at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford Wednesday – with hopes of earning another one.
With its domination of Canandaigua (12-3) in the Far West Regional on Saturday at Fisher, Hamburg earned it a berth into Wednesday’s 3:30 p.m. state semifinals against national power Jamesville-Dewitt of Section III (Syracuse area). Wednesday’s winner will return to Fisher at 11 a.m. Saturday for the Class B state championship.
Here’s a rundown of the local teams hoping to end this week with a state title.
On paper, things are lining up very nicely for Clarence.
The Red Devils will host Victor today at 4:30 p.m. That’s the same field that Clarence won the sectional title on last Thursday behind a strong pitching performance by Pittsburgh-bound Mark Armstrong, who will be well rested for today’s game.
In the other dugout will be a team that played just Monday evening. Victor beat Fairport, 1-0, for the overall Section V Class AA title at Batavia’s Dwyer Stadium.
Dwyer is the site of a regional doubleheader today in which Williamsville South and its well-rested starter, 6-4 senior Damian Powers, will face Pittsford-Sutherland at 7 p.m. in Class A. The first game of the doubleheader has Pine Valley meeting Whitesville at 4:30 in Class D. Pine Valley is seeking a repeat trip to states after losing in the state semifinals; this is its third straight regional appearance.
Another regional doubleheader will take place today at Jamestown’s Diethrick Park. At 7 p.m., season-long No. 1 small school Fredonia will take on Wayland-Cohocton in Class B. This is a rematch from last year, one which the Hillbillies surely have longed for another shot. Fredonia had the lead entering the bottom of the seventh last year in a rain-delayed game that was suspended due to darkness; the next day, Way-Co completed a rally for an 8-7 victory. Fredonia is aiming for its first state semifinal appearance since 2009.
The first pitch of the Class C game is at 4:30 p.m. as Portville, winner of its first sectional title in 15 years after coming from the fourth seed to win the Section VI title, faces Bolivar-Richburg.
Clarence’s state championship season last year was marked by huge offensive production, this year’s team is a little more traditional: Solid pitching, standout defense and timely hitting. The results haven’t been much different, as the Red Devils are 21-2 after last year’s team went 23-1.
“We’ve got a really good defense, we don’t make a lot of mistakes, and our pitching is very consistent,” said Banaszak. “Katrina just does the job when she has to. We’ve just got committed kids.”
The Red Devils had to replace six starters from last year’s team, doing so with junior pitcher Katrina Buczkowski, junior right fielder Kelsey Henderson, and junior catcher Shelby Dolan from junior varsity, senior center fielder Kayla Palmeri returned to the team after a year off, while senior second baseman Kaycee Fracasso and senior first baseman Sarah Quinn stepped up from varsity reserve roles. Those players joined returning starters senior shortstop Katie Milone, junior Moriah Harris and senior Jill Horvath.
Banaszak pointed out Fracasso’s play at second base and at the leadoff position, where she stepped in for Alyssa Dewes, a returning standout who missed the season due to a shoulder injury.
“Fracasso has done a great job defensively and she’s done a great job keeping things going at leadoff.”
Clarence faces Brockport High at nearby Brockport State today at 2 p.m., something Banaszak said he doesn’t have a problem with.
Joining Clarence at Brockport today are the next two classes in size: Hamburg (A) and Falconer (B).
Hamburg is seeking a return trip to the state final four behind senior standout pitcher Bridget Hogan, who will play at Niagara next year. The Bulldogs, who lost in the state semifinals last year after their first sectional title, take on private school Mercy at 4.
Falconer seeks a return to the final four after making it there in 2011. The Falcons play Wayland-Cohocton at 6.
Today at Olean, a third Section VI team will try to make a return to the states in Frewsburg.
The Bears, who lost in last year’s state semifinals, take on Keshequa at 3 p.m. In Class D, Pine Valley, off its first sectional title since 2005, faces Andover at 5.
There have only been three occasions where a Section VI boys lacrosse team has advanced to the state championship game. Each time it was accomplished by Orchard Park in Class A, and each time the Quakers lost in the final (2000, 2001, 2009).
Hamburg (17-2) has a chance to do something no local team has done before, and they have quite the opponent in its path.
If Hamburg, which is making its second semifinal appearance (it lost to Carthage in 2008), wants to become the first Section VI B team to advance to a state final – or win a state championship – it will have to beat one of the nation’s best teams.
Entering last weekend’s regional play, the Red Raiders (19-1) were ranked fourth in the Nike/US Lacrosse, 13th by Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse and were 12th in laxpower.com’s computer rankings.
The Hamburg/J-D winner will face the winner of Wednesday’s East semifinal game between Section II (Albany area) winner Niskayuna and Long Island power Garden City of Nassau County.
Hamburg put forth an excellent display of lacrosse in Saturday’s Far West Regional victory, one in which every component of the Bulldogs’ unit contributed.
Defensively, six senior defenders aid standout sophomore goalie Jordan Kuss, including senior older brother Evan and senior Adam Gawlak, who has several key plays Saturday. Longstick midfielder Christian Hollfelder was lauded by Hamburg coach Jerry Severino, while younger brother Evan Hollfelder (three goals) was outstanding as part of an offensive unit that turned quick passing into slick goals several times.
Severino attributed the team’s high level play at this point of the season to the return of Maryland-Baltimore County recruit Max Maxwell, a senior midfielder who came back from an ankle injury five games ago.
“When he was out, we had to scramble – we struggled with local games, but other kids grew,” said Severino. “They improved their game and we became more team-oriented. I think his returned just buoyed everybody. Everyone becomes better when they play with Max Maxwell. He’s that kind of a kid. Everyone’s confidence is raised, everybody’s game is better.”