It's been quite the week for the St. Mary's baseball team. The Lancers beat Canisius, St. Joe's and St. Francis -- three of the Monsignor Martin Association's larger schools -- in a seven-day span, something that hasn't happened in a long time, if ever, at the Lancaster school.
"It hasn't happened in my time here," said fifth-year coach Mike Wagner. "We played teams tough to where it could have happened, but this was a first. It just seemed that our group has finally meshed. We've got seven seniors who have been through the system from Little League. We've gotten some good pitching and timely hitting. We're real happy with the way things are going."
Wagner and St. Mary's fans aren't going to be so happy when they check out the coaches' small school baseball poll on this page. It doesn't even have the Lancers in the top 10. Pollsters might not be used to voting for teams outside of the Southern Tier, ECIC IV and the Niagara-Orleans League, but St. Mary's deserves to be there. Beating the big schools -- including two in the large school poll -- and a 6-2 record is more than enough reason.
"No matter what the rankings say," said Wagner, "what is important to us is a strong finish in May for the playoffs."
St. Mary's has done that before. Two seasons ago, it advanced to the Georgetown Cup championship series where it lost a wonderful three-game set to Timon/St. Jude. Trying to get back there will be seniors Andy Gill (second base), Eric Fattey (third base), Cam Kiebzak (left field), Adam Bistoff (center), Kyle Raddemaker (right), Steve Goehle (catcher) and top starting pitcher Rick Bittner. Three key sophomores are Brad Gibson (first base/catcher), Anthony Ballesteri (shortstop/pitcher) and pitcher Gary Schmelzer, who has given up only four hits in 13 innings. Wagner lauded assistant coaches Tony Ballesteri and Ken Newton for helping in the team's success.
St. Mary's has about 180 boys in its school, compared to 700-plus at St. Joe's, Canisius and St. Francis. The Lancers were in for another typically grueling schedule this week. St. Joe's was on the schedule Monday before a Wednesday-Thursday series against Timon.
Harris, Blackburn tops in state
Niagara Falls' Paul Harris and Lackawanna's Ray Blackburn, repeat first-team All-Western New York selections in boys basketball this year, earned state Player of the Year honors in their respective classes.
Harris earned the Class AA award over Greg Paulus of Syracuse's Christian Brothers Academy, who was the state's Mr. Basketball and a second-team All-American by USA Today, as well as Danny Green of Long Island's St. Mary's, who like Paulus was a McDonald's All-American.
Why didn't Harris -- who is at least as good a player as those two and had a much better season -- get Mr. Basketball or earn McDonald's All-American? Paulus is headed to Duke and Green to North Carolina, while Harris will attend prep school before likely playing at Syracuse in 2006. Right or wrong, having a major scholarship already wrapped up probably scored big points with the award committees. Falls coaches are hoping Harris will earn one of the honors next year.
Blackburn won the top honor in Class B. The only other Western New York first-teamer was Maple Grove's John Papincak in Class C. (Complete list, Page D5.)
Around the halls
* The Amherst boys lacrosse team followed one stunner with another. After ending Orchard Park's 11-year winning streak against Western New York teams, 14-5, on April 15 and reaching the No. 4 spot in the state Class B poll, the Tigers were thumped, 14-1, at Section V power Penfield on Wednesday. . . . It's official: Timon/St. Jude has played the toughest lacrosse schedule in the area's history. The Tigers lost at defending state Class A champion West Genesee, 15-2, Saturday. Timon has lost to three teams ranked in Laxpower.com's top six in the nation: No. 1 McDonough, No. 3 West Genny and No. 6 Boys' Latin of Maryland. . . . The Independent Lacrosse Conference's inaugural midseason Lax Bash on Saturday was won by the league's front-runner, Gow, behind event MVP P.J. Chmura.
* Heading to the 111th Penn Relays at the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field in Philadelphia are boys and girls squads from Iroquois, JFK and Springville, boys teams from Clarence and St. Joe's, the girls squad from Orchard Park, as well as Jamestown's Travis Prejean and Lockport's Mark Russell, who will compete in the 1,600 meters. . . . McKinley's Derrick Garner sprinted to a win in the 100 (11.9) and also outdistanced runners to take the 3,200 (11:25.8) during last Tuesday's Scalp and Blade meet.