How good has Orchard Park been this season?
So good that the Quakers (16-2) clinched the ECIC I title before suffering their first loss of the season (May 14 to Clarence).
OP has been on a season-long roll as it opens Section VI Class AA tournament play today at home against Niagara-Wheatfield.
Pitching is only part of the reason the Quakers earned the top seed for the playoffs. The big story for OP has been its infield defense led by star shortstop Dave Hollins, who is hitting over .500. The unit includes second-year starting third baseman Jeff Palczewski (.400), returning junior second baseman and shortstop-in-waiting Brandon Nicholson (.480) and first baseman Andy Sipowicz (.380). When Sipowicz (3-0) pitches, Ryan Partridge fills in at first.
“My infield defense is the best I’ve ever seen at the high school level,” OP coach Jim Gibson said. “We’ve made some plays that were just amazing.”
In regards to the pitching, the Quakers do have numerous options – something that could come in handy should the already compacted playoff schedule (three games in five days) become even tighter because of rain this week. Weather permitting, quarterfinals begin today in all seven playoff brackets with winners advancing to Thursday’s semifinals. Championship games are Saturday.
Sipowicz has only thrown 22 innings, but that’s the most of any OP pitcher. Lefty Ben Wereski (2-0, 2 saves) and righty Jake Dogal (4-0) are among other top pitching options for OP. Left fielder Ryan MacCarrick, a returning All-WNY first teammer, is hitting over .400.
Those trying to prevent Orchard Park from becoming the fourth No. 1 seed in five years to win the Class AA title after all previous top seeds before this run had failed to achieve the feat include state runner-up Clarence. The Red Devils may be a No. 5 seed but championship pedigree makes them dangerous as the Red Devils have won five sectional titles since 2007. Returnees from last year include fourth-team All-State Bryan Jost, ace pitcher Evan Harof and Zach Darlak.
No. 2 Niagara Falls and No. 3 Lancaster are also lurking.
Hamburg the hunted in A-1
Hamburg’s biggest concern entering the season was how it would replace five graduated seniors from last year’s sectional runner-up team. The answer – with teamwork and camaraderie as the Bulldogs sport a 14-6 record, which includes an ECIC II championship.
“My biggest concern was not replacing them with talent but leadership,” coach Steve Chaffee said of the Bulldogs, the top seed in Class A-1. “I’m really excited with the fact these kids have stepped up and have a common goal. Winning the league was great. It’s our first outright win without sharing it. These kids are focused on sectionals.”
Kyle Sickau (5-1) is Hamburg’s top pitcher but the Bulldogs have six different hurlers who have wins. Cam Ringo hit .386 with seven doubles, while Jake Mertowski is hitting .400 from the leadoff spot. Brett Ross hits .375 as the cleanup hitter. A potential sectional final rematch with last year’s state runner-up and hard-hitting Williamsville South could happen in the semifinals.
Other contenders in the bracket figure to be No. 2 Grand Island and No. 3 Iroquois, which has received a spark from the return of Justin Krzmien from injury. The clean-up hitter is batting .380 with two homers and several doubles. Andrew Schaefer is hitting .460.
Pioneer rises in A-2
Pioneer went 14-4 overall, including 11-3 in ECIC III after going just 5-9 in league last year.
“This year was a little bit of a surprise,” said Pioneer coach Dave Buncy, whose top-seeded crew in Class A-2 faces Lake Shore. “We’ve won a lot of one-run games and came together in this short season.”
Walker Green (5-3, 2.20) and Dylan Webber (6-1, 1.81) pitched about 85 percent of the Panthers’ total innings this season. Walker also hits .368 with a team-high 18 runs and 22 RBIs.
No. 2 seed Albion has won a sectional title three of the past four seasons. John Warne (.472) is one of four lineup regulars hitting over .430 for the Purple Eagles, who won the Niagara-Orleans title with a 13-1 mark. No. 4 seed Springville went 10-2 and beat Pioneer, but was one of the ECIC III teams that failed to play all of its league games due to the soggy spring.
Fredonia and ...
Does defending state Class B champion Fredonia have the goods to repeat?
“We’re just looking to survive and advance,” said Hillbillies coach Vince Gullo, whose club is quietly vying for its fourth straight sectional title and enters the playoffs as a No. 2 seed in Class B-1 behind City Honors. They were a No. 2 seed in sectionals last year, too.
Fredonia (16-3), which also won the state title in 2006, has the winning pitcher in last year’s state final back as its ace this season in junior Cam Voss, who is 19-0 in his career and is receiving looks from Division I schools. The lefty has struck out 63 in 43 innings and yielded only three earned runs this season while batting .467.
Second baseman/pitcher Weston Ley hit .711 in 12 league games with 18 runs and 22 RBIs. He also went 3-0 with 0.31 ERA in league play and the fourth-year varsity starter is 14-4 in his career.
Those looking to unseat Hillbillies include Olean (14-2), which is one of just two Western New York teams to beat Fredonia this season. Don’t sleep on Medina, the N-O runner-up which received a No. 6 seed. The Mustangs, are led by Adam Hoot (.368 average). Honors has two reliable starters in Caleb Lee (4-0, 1.12) and Justin Wisniewski (3-0, 2.84).
Gowanda’s B-2 draw scary
An old friend awaits Class B-2 top seed Gowanda in today’s quarterfinal.
Falconer, a team with lots of senior leadership that may be the best hitting team in the B-2 bracket.
Gowanda (15-5, 9-1) split two regular-season games with Olean. Gowanda tuned up for sectionals by beating A-1 top seed Hamburg last Thursday and Class D No. 1 seed Pine Valley on Friday.
“We were able to shake off some rust,” coach Tim Smith said. “We hope to come out and play a great game on Tuesday.”
Those who hope to aid Gowanda in its title quest include pitcher/catcher Ryan Boutelle, who hit .411 and scored a team-high 31 runs. Joe Kruszka, a sophomore, hit .380 and also pitches/catches. Freshman Matt Kruszka, Joe’s brother, is a shortstop in his third season as a starter. He’s hitting .455 with a team-best 34 RBIs. Those hoping to derail Gowanda’s title quest besides Falconer include Roy-Hart and Akron.
CCAA teams eye C and D titles
• CCAA has had at least one league member reach the state semifinals each year since 2005, with Fredonia winning the state title last year. In the event CCAA gets shut out in Class B, there is a good chance the eventual Class C or D champion could extend the league’s streak.
Class C top seed Westfield looks to break through after losing in the sectional final the past three straight seasons. Coach Doug Kaltenbach’s crew has six starters back from last season, including pitcher Nolan Hunt. The two-time CCAA II West MVP went 5-0 with 60 strikeouts in 33 innings and posted a microscopic ERA of 0.84. The lefty, who also flashes a good glove at first base, is hitting around .430. No. 2 pitcher Rob Burgess, a senior, is 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA.
“I’ve coached 26 years and this is the best pitching I’ve had,” Kaltenbach said.
Other contenders in Class C include defending champion Portville, who return pitcher/first baseman Justus Elliott (3-1l; .363) and Brett Marcellin (2-2; .363). Frewsburg also has a history of making it to the state final four.
• Pine Valley, a Class D state semifinalist last year, is the top seed and received a bye into the semifinals in the seven-team bracket. Coach Chris Buczek isn’t pleased his team is not participating in Quarterfinal Tuesday today.
“I think we’re behind the 8-ball because preparation for a game like that is different if you’ve already played a playoff game,” he said. “To have the kids’ first game be a semifinal game seems like a lot of pressure because that first playoff game you can make a couple mistakes and get away with it (if its a quarterfinal).”
Third-year starter Winfred Nelson (5-0, .346 average) is like having another coach on the field, Buczek said. Catcher Tom Raiport is hitting .557 and is 2-0 on the mound, as PV looks to ward off challenges from Ellicottville, Clymer and Brocton.