For the past decade, a team from the ECIC has captured the Section VI Class AA baseball championship.
That shouldn’t be all that surprising because most of the AA-sized schools are in Erie County. Still, Niagara Falls hopes to be the one to end the ECIC schools’ reign of dominance in the Section VI Tournament.
The Niagara Frontier League champion earned a No. 2 seed in the bracket and will get to play all of its sectional games on its new home diamond behind the high school – including a potential championship game should the Wolverines reach the final Saturday.
Despite having home-field advantage, though, just getting to the final could prove to be a daunting task for Falls (15-4, 12-2) – which has won four league titles the past 10 years, including two over the last three seasons but has reached the sectional final just once (2012).
“We have a No. 2 seed but I think right now we’re the underdogs,” said Falls Joe Contento. “The ECIC teams seem like they have a stranglehold of AA.”
The Wolverines would have to beat two ECIC I teams just to reach the final as the division has five teams left in the bracket heading into today’s AA quarterfinals at 5 p.m. The Wolverines face Williamsville North. Their NFL cohort, No. 4 Lockport, gets to host defending champion and last year’s state runner-up Clarence, which earned a fifth seed. No. 1 seed Orchard Park begins the quest for its first sectional title since 2006 when it hosts Niagara-Wheatfield of the NFL. The only quarterfinal involving ECIC rivals has No. 6 Frontier visiting No. 3 Lancaster.
Winners advance to Thursday’s semifinals with the top seeds serving as hosts. The final is Saturday at Niagara Falls High School.
Clarence enters this postseason having won five Class AA championships since 2007. The only other two teams to win a title besides the Red Devils since ’07 are Hamburg (2008) and Lancaster (2012).
No Niagara Frontier League team has won a sectional title since North Tonawanda in 2003, and Niagara Falls last won a sectional title when it went by the nickname Power Cats – back in 1999 before the merger of old Niagara Falls and LaSalle high schools into the current Niagara Falls.
Falls hopes solid pitching (its starters boast an earned-run average under 2.00), timely hitting and good defense – a proven championship-winning recipe for many teams over the years – winds up helping it earn the signature championship win that’s missing from the program’s resume.
“It’s what we really went into this year looking for,” Contento said of that elusive sectional title. “We know from a couple years ago it will be a tough road. We’re just looking at it one game at a time.”
Members of the 2012 sectional runner-up team who are still with Falls include senior pitcher/first baseman Michael Eagler (5-0, 1.32 ERA; .434 batting average), senior third baseman Joey D’Angelo (.344 average), No. 2 pitcher/shortstop Mike Colosi (4-0, 1.50 ERA), two-time all-league second baseman David Yarger, catcher Chris Cardona and centerfielder Jake Martineau.
A potential wild card the Wolverines now have is sophomore No. 3 pitcher/right fielder Justin Beyer (3-0, team-high 19 RBIs, .360 average), who could be used as a closer or starter in the event weather disrupts the playoff schedule this week.
“Niagara Falls has had a great season,” OP coach Jim Gibson said.
“There are probably seven or eight teams that can win Class AA,” he continued. “If you run into the wrong pitcher on the wrong day ...”
Then it’s curtains.