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In a sport dominated by pitching, there's a player from Alden who may even things out a little.

Freshman Jordan Rutkowski has captured the attention of softball fans in Western New York after making last summer's Empire State Games open team as an eighth grader. Typically, the team is made up of the best college players from Buffalo and Rochester.

"The first year she came out as a seventh grader, she blew me away how good she was at a young age," Alden coach Jeff Kryszczuk said. "It's unusual to see someone with that much bat skill. She's small, but extremely powerful. She does some lifting on the side and she's a three-sport athlete."

With Rutkowski's big bat in the lineup, the Bulldogs are hoping to make a run at Eden and JFK in ECIC IV. She opened her season on Monday with a grand slam against Lackawanna.

Sophomore pitcher Carlissa Cole and speedy sophomore outfielder Maria Blum give Alden a nice core of young players.

Empire State Games coach Mike Rappl, who also coaches the Canisius College softball team, was quick to recognize Rutkowski's skills. He played her in the outfield and watched her hit a home run against the New York City region.

"She's obviously way ahead of her years. Hitting-wise, she's one of the better hitters in the area if she continues to improve," he said. "She came out for the team and she didn't look like an eighth grader. When we found out -- holy smokes! She's really athletic, a strong kid and has a great eye for hitting."

Here's a look at what's ahead in 2005.

Prime time teams

Clarence came within a 1-0 loss to Cicero-North Syracuse of winning the New York State Class AA title. Junior Stephanie Wydra has plenty of support in the field from catcher Michelle Rogers, four-year starter in RF Katie Pazda and freshman SS Katie Lancellotti. . . . Finishing undefeated and winning a state title aren't realistic goals for most teams, but it is for Williamsville South. The Billies were 28-0 last season on their way to the NYS Class A title. The Billies return seven starters led by the returning battery of sophomore pitcher Chelsea Plimpton (33-0 in her career) and junior catcher Michelle Fridey (.453, 43 hits). "This team seems to be strong in the three areas you need to be to be successful (pitching, offense, defense)," said coach Gerry Gentner. "Chelsea doesn't have to do it all. It's a 12-person team." South unveiled its new electronic scoreboard in Monday's season opener, a donation by the DeStefano family. . . . Falconer made it to the Class B state final before losing to Schuylerville, 3-1. The Falcons hope senior Tabatha Stenstrom and junior catcher Shelby Carlson can mount another run. . . . Don't count out Maryvale. The Flyers, with six starters back, are a dangerous team. They lost to South three times last year, but one game was 7-4 in extra innings. This year Maryvale hosts South on April 18 and travels to South on May 4. . . . City Honors is hoping to win its fourth consecutive Thompson Trophy. In the past two seasons the Centaurs are 27-0 in the league. . . . Mount Mercy has been at its best in even-numbered years, having won the Monsignor Martin Association title in 2000, 2002, 2004. "We're hoping to break that trend this year," said coach Bill Gangloff. The Magic will hand the ball to freshman Mary Kate Peacock, who Gangloff said had a lot of "spunk." . . . Sacred Heart won the MMA regular season championship, but fell short in the playoffs to Mount Mercy. The Sharks will make another run at the title with All-WNY shortstop Elyse Monte, All-Catholic 3B Lindsay Macaluso and pitcher Mallory Pemberton. . . . Pine Valley has won or shared the CCIAC III title the past three years. RF Justina Troutman has a strong enough arm to throw out runners at first. Six players were on the school's state championship basketball team.

Prime time pitchers

So how many shutouts will Plimpton of Williamsville South and Wydra of Clarence combine for this year? Last year the number was 30. The pair shared WNY Pitcher of the Year honors. Wydra had a ridiculous ERA of 0.04 after giving up just one earned run in 159 innings. . . . Stenstrom of Falconer has been a force in CCIAC I since eighth grade. She throws 60-plus mph and has been working hard on a change-up. . . . Senior Katie Gleiser of Maryvale pitched and played the field well enough last year to earn All-WNY and ECIC III Player of the Year honors. The Flyers have another pitcher who can bring it: junior Sam Thompson threw a couple of no-hitters last year. . . . Alicia Morley of Cassadaga Valley has already thrown no-hitters against Salamanca and Chautauqua Lake. The Cougars won CCIAC II last season with a 14-0 record. . . . Senior Jen Biernacki of Medina had 233 strikeouts last season to break the school record. She'll be challenged in her Niagara-Orleans League by Wilson junior Amber Kraft (seven shutouts last year). . . . Defending Section VI Class D champion Ripley returns Sam Bollinger, who took over at midseason last year for the injured Kristy Bentley (quad). . . . Freshman Emily Zuchlewski of City Honors is back for her second full season as a starter.

Prime time players

1B Dana Carter of Williamsville South and catcher Kim Hanzlian of JFK have signed national letters of intent for the University at Buffalo. Hanzlian was the ECIC IV Player of the Year and she's ranked No. 1 in her class academically. Carter drove in 47 runs last season while batting .426. . . . Catcher/DH Janae Kosciol of Olean is a tough out, according to her coach Matt Threehouse. "There aren't too many girls who can throw a ball past her. She's got a quick bat and is certainly not intimidated by anyone," he said. . . . Four-year starting SS Tonya Royce of Forestville is the returning Player of the Year in CCIAC III. She's a 1,400-point scorer in basketball, but she's headed to Fredonia in the fall to play volleyball and softball. . . . Ashley and Amanda Kotz of Williamsville East have signed partial athletic scholarships with St. Bonaventure.

Around the horn

Holy Angels spent seven days in Orlando playing doubleheaders against teams from New Jersey, Ohio and New York. SS/CF Lauren Long has excellent speed and pitcher Anne Dobmeier is a three-year starter who bats cleanup. . . . Williamsville South and Maryvale will represent WNY at the 21st annual James "Ace" Morabito Tournament on May 13-15 at Susquehanna Valley High School. The 16-team field features quality teams from Ohio and New York. . . . Williamsville South is the defending champion of the North Tonawanda and Depew Tournaments, beating North Tonawanda in the finals of both. . . . Freshman to watch: Ripley 3B Samantha Eimers. "If I don't have to, I won't pitch to her," said Pine Valley coach Scott Reynolds. . . . Starpoint joins ECIC III from the Niagara-Orleans League. . . . The Depew Tournament on May 7 boasts its largest field ever -- 24 teams. Williamville South and Clarence are among the participants, but they are in different brackets and won't meet . . . Hutch-Tech has reached the Thompson Trophy championship game for three straight years, but has lost each time to City Honors. . . . Senior catcher Heidi Conlon is a returning All-Catholic pick for Niagara Catholic. . . . The Buffalo Public School's Thompson Trophy has divided its 14 teams into an A and B division. The teams in the A division will play each other twice in an effort to be better prepared for the sectionals and to avoid lopsided scores. Burgard and Buffalo Seminary will field teams this season. . . . Sweet Home, new to ECIC I, is led by freshman P/CF Amanda Cannizzo, a starter since seventh grade, and senior Maryssa Kucskar, who tied with Cannizzo last season for highest batting average. . . . Longtime Orchard Park coach Kim Kaul, a member of the WNY Softball Hall of Fame, has stepped down. . . . Wilson coach Larry Lash is within 12 win of 400 (388-247). . . . Lackawanna pitcher Shannon Ring will attend Canisius on an academic scholarship. . . . Iroquois joins ECIC III from III. . . . Williamsville South and Canisius College graduate, Jill Iacone, makes her coaching debut for Nardin in Wednesday's opener against Buffalo Seminary.



April 15-16, April 23: 21st North Tonawanda Tournament
April 15-17: 9th Holy Angels Classic at Houghton Park
April 23-24: Immaculata/St. Mary's Tourney at Walden Ponds, Lancaster
May 7: Depew Tournament at Walden Ponds, Lancaster
May 13-14: Sweet Home Tournament
May 19: Section VI seedings meeting at Depew.
May 19: Thompson Trophy championship at JFK
May 27: Section VI finals at Jamestown, Classes C & D
May 28: Section VI finals at UB, Classes AA, A, B
May 31: Far West Regionals: Section VI vs. Section V -- Classes AA, A and B at Brockport; Class C and Class D at Jamestown
June 2: Monsignor Martin Association at Sunshine Park
June 4: State final four at Cicero, Section III (Syracuse area)
Defending champions:
Section VI Class AA -- Clarence. Class A -- Williamsville South. Class B -- Falconer. Class C -- Cassadaga Valley. Class D -- Ripley
Monsignor Martin Association: Mount Mercy.
Thompson Trophy: City Honors.
Returning Buffalo News All-WNY players:
Sophomore Chelsea Plimpton of Williamsville South
Junior Stephanie Wydra of Clarence
Senior Dana Carter of Williamsville South
Junior Michelle Friday of Williamsville South
Senior Michelle Rogers of Clarence
Senior Elyse Monte of Sacred Heart
Returning All-New York State players:
Class AA: Stephanie Wydra, Clarence (second team); Michelle Rogers, Clarence (fifth team)
Class A: Chelsea Plimpton, Williamsville South (first team); Dana Carter, Williamsville South (first team); Janae Kosciol, Olean (third team)
Class B: Tabatha Stenstrom, Falconer (first team); Shelby Carlson, Falconer (first team); Jen Biernacki, Medina (fourth team)
Class C: Alicia Morley, Cassadaga Valley (first team); Kim Hanzlian, JFK (second team)
Class D: Tonya Royce, Forestville (second team)
Coaches poll champions:
Large schools: Williamsville South. Small schools: Cassadaga Valley