Julie Murphy figured if she took the same approach to coaching as her late father the wins would eventually come. She was right.
Three seasons after Gerry Gentner lost his long battle with abdominal cancer, his youngest daughter has the Billies covering all the bases. The team finished 11-1 this spring to share the ECIC II crown with Starpoint, their first title since Gentner’s death in January of 2012.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my dad and his legacy,” said Murphy, who served as an assistant coach with her father. “On the field I’m constantly looking to him for guidance. I’ve tried to lead by example with my team of very talented passionate players. They all love wearing the South uniform and know what meaning it has.”
In Gentner’s 14 memorable seasons (1998-2011), South won New York State titles in 2000, 2004 and 2006. They won six Section VI championships, 10 ECIC titles and had a 59-game league winning streak. The team went 12-0 in the league in his last season, 2011.
Since then the Billies tied for third place in 2012 and finished second in 2013 before breaking through this season.
This year’s Billies are the No. 1 seed in Class A. They take a 16-2 overall record, and an 11-game winning streak, into today’s Section VI quarterfinal game against Kenmore East. The 16 wins are tied for the most of any of the remaining teams in the tournament.
Among the seven seniors on this year’s roster are two players, Emily Martin and Megan Mingle, who were freshmen in what was Gentner’s last season. Martin is a returning All-Western New York shortstop and the ECIC II co-Player of the Year. She will continue her career at Geneseo.
Also largely responsible for the Billies success is the combination of starter Samantha Moon and closer Courtney Gracz.
Assistant coach Bob Gentner, Gerry’s brother, plays as key a role as anyone. He was an assistant during his brother’s tenure and he stayed on to help his niece. “I see so much of my dad in my uncle and it’s so nice to be coaching with a great counterpart, but Bob and I have such a special relationship,” Murphy said.
“From where we were when we started in the gym to where they are now. They have worked incredibly hard and continue to show up,” said Murphy. “I know he would be so proud of the program.”
Here’s a class-by-class look at the Section VI Tournament which continues today:
Clarence has won 12 games in a row as they make their postseason debut today against visiting Frontier. The No. 1 seeded Red Devils look to win Class AA for the third year in a row. They won ECIC I at 11-1 and have been the No.1 ranked large school in the WNY Coaches poll all season. Despite having beaten Frontier three times, they are not taking the Falcons for granted.
All-WNY pitcher Katrina Buczkowski has a 16-1 record and 1.78 ERA. She averages 9.5 strikeouts per game. She will pitch next season at NCAA Division III Ramapo College in N.J.
Moriah Harris wields a dangerous bat as teams have walked her 19 times. She leads the team in extra base hits, RBI and runs scored. Gabby Keller leads team at .470.
“They’ve been working hard, practice has been upbeat, positive and serious,” said coach Todd Banaszak.
The Red Devils’ roster includes six players who are either freshmen or sophomores.
No. 2 seed Niagara-Wheatfield and No. 3 Niagara Falls, co-champions of the Niagara Frontier League, host games today.
Orchard Park handed Clarence its only league loss, 2-0. A big part of the offense has been leadoff hitter Shaye Swiatek. Junior Rachel Johnson and freshman Alex Sheehy are also batting around .450.
No. 6 Lancaster, which beat Niagara Falls in last year’s semifinals, face them again in today’s quarters. Olivia Jankowski is batting over .400 for the Redskins.
Defending New York State Class A champion Hamburg (5-10) remains alive as a No. 14 seed. Sluggers Maggie Vesneske and Allison Salerno had a strong finish to the season. “We struggled a little record-wise this year, but we’re hoping playing the best competition will benefit us for this playoff run,” said coach Lisa Palma.
Starpoint junior pitcher Allison Block has 115 strikeouts in 62 innings. Her speed, combined with a rise pitch, make her difficult to make solid contact against. First baseman Ashley Owens, another steady pitcher, is batting .450.
No. 1 seed Williamsville South continues its journey to win its first title since 2007 when it hosts Kenmore East today.
No. 7 Iroquois will be counting on the arm of junior Amanda Metz.
Williamsville East’s Sara Armstrong is a three-year starter at short and is hitting a team-best .492.
The Flames travel to West Seneca East today. Both teams are riding upsets of higher seeds in the previous round. East knocked off No. 4 seed Amherst while the Trojans eliminated No. 5 Grand Island.
There are five teams alive in this bracket from ECIC II.
If Falconer hopes to defend its Class B championship, it needs to knock off a familiar opponent. The No. 12 seeded Falcons travel to No. 4 Fredonia today. The teams split their regular-season games, winning on each other’s fields.
“We know we can compete with them, they are ranked third in the state, but we told the girls you have to believe in yourself,” said coach Dan Morales. “They are ready and focused to go after them. They believe they are going to knock them off so I’m not complaining.”
Falconer returns six starters from last year’s title team including tri-captains pitcher Abby Courtney, centerfielder Brianna McFall and catcher Kylei Russell.
No. 2 Eden rode consistent pitching to a 12-0 record in ECIC IV. Pitchers Jill Murray and Carly Nasca average 14 strikeouts per start. No. 4 hitter Haley Kobie is batting over .400. “Our pitching has been good all year, if we hit the ball, not many teams can stop us,” said coach Marissa Fallacaro, whose team hosts CCAA East I co-champ Olean today.
No. 1 seed and ECIC III champion Depew hosts Gowanda today. Gowanda and Roy-Hart shared the Niagara-Orleans League title at 12-2.
Westfield coach Dave Luder started the season by writing T.W.T.W. on a chalkboard. Then he asked his players if they had: The Will to Win? It’s been the team’s battle cry all season.
The No. 4 seeded Wolverines’ (16-2) only losses were to Fredonia and Chautauqua Lake.
Westfield’s Rachel Allen, a fixture at shortstop for the past five years, would like to lead her team to its first sectional title since 2010. Kathryn Catalano and Carson Houser are also at the top of the order and all are hitting over .300. “Rachel is a game-changer, she makes a lot of things happen,” said Luder. “If there’s anyone who fuels our fire, it’s her.”
But Westfield needs to get past No. 5 Cattaraugus/Little Valley and standout pitcher Sara Crandall today if it hopes to advance.
This strong class includes four teams who won league titles. Catt./Little Valley and Franklinville tied for the CCAA East II title with 11-1 records. Westfield and Chautauqua Lake tied for CCAA West II also at 11-1.
Franklinville eliminated defending New York State Class C champion Frewsburg, 12-5, in the prequarterfinals. The Bears had won the last three Section VI Class C titles.
Chautauqua Lake has scored 277 runs this season for a 13.1 per game average. Its 16-5 overall record includes five games in Myrtle Beach and three in Fredonia’s Hae Jude Tournament. Among the top hitters are second baseman Jade Walsh (.535) and catcher/designated player Mel McCutcheon (.560).
No. 1 seed Early Middle College (9-3) is the only team left in the tournament from the Thompson Trophy.
“This is the best offensive and defensive team I’ve coached in nine years,” said coach Brian Leeb. “Jenea Fisher and Emily Kindred are the heart and soul of the team.”
Youth didn’t prevent Panama from earning the No. 1 seed. The Panthers have just one senior and two juniors on its roster as they chase their first sectional title since 2010.
The team’s only senior, Carly Abbate, pitches and bats leadoff. Panama benefitted from playing in CCAA West II with mostly Class C teams.
“We have a seventh-grade catcher and freshman first baseman – our first 2-3 games were just Error City,” said coach Tammy Hosier. “They both have improved greatly. The improvement is definitely the key to our season.”
No. 2 seed Pine Valley is the defending sectional champion and a state final four team a year ago. Both Pine Valley versus Panama regular season games were rained out.
Sophomore Jessica Wilcox had been a fixture on the mound since earning a late-season call-up last year. Kayla Mansfield leads team in RBI in a lineup void of any superstars.
Panama (8-7) and Pine Valley (8-7) are the only teams in the eight-team bracket with winning records.