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Dunkirk-Fredonia diamond rivalry is huge
Hamburg, Albion look for sectional title repeats

Dunkirk and Fredonia's football teams don't have the market cornered on the rivalry between the Chautauqua County schools.

The baseball teams have had their share of battles over the years.

"We know we're going to have to go though Dunkirk to reach our goals this year," said Fredonia coach Vince Gullo. "The kids play summer ball together, they're all friends, but when we're competing against each other, it's quite a rivalry."

Fredonia and Dunkirk, both members of CCIAC I, shared the league title last year with 9-3 records. Dunkirk went on to win the Section VI Class B-1 title, while Fredonia took top honors in Class B-2. Dunkirk emerged the winner when they met for the overall Class B crown.

"In any sport, the [Fredonia] game is something special. There's always an added something to the game," said Dunkirk coach Frank Jagoda. "Over the years, it's a huge rivalry."

The teams will meet for the first time this season April 27.

Dunkirk was the only team in Section VI to win in the Far West Regional round against Rochester, beating Hornell. They saw their season come to an end against Briarcliff, 6-2, in the state semifinals.

With All-Western New York pitcher Vinny Bomasuto graduated, the Marauders have some holes to fill. The team spent a week in Myrtle Beach, where it played five games and practiced.

Junior pitcher Alex Kubera has that sought-after combo of good breaking stuff and the composure of a pitcher who has thrown many innings. Max Schrantz and Kevin Holmes join the rotation.

Dunkirk used the trip down south to try to formulate a decent batting order and plug players into the right spots.

Fredonia, coming off an 18-5 season, is off to a 3-0 start. Pitcher/shortstop Trent Thompson has two of the wins, along with a save. Right fielder Nick Hart bats leadoff. Zack Buckley homered in the sectional final against City Honors. Jude Gardner has a strong arm in center field.

>Defending champions

Hamburg graduated eight from the team that won the Section VI, Class A-1 title last year, but that doesn't mean the cupboard is bare.

Senior pitcher Sam Hogan and junior third baseman Brian Castonguay are returning first team ECIC II all-stars. Eric Simoncelli returns behind the plate and will bat leadoff. Pitcher/center fielder Tyler Shaw, who earned a midseason call-up last year and got the win in the sectional semifinals, is No. 2 in the rotation. Hamburg beat Lake Shore, 9-5, in its league opener. The Eagles were ECIC III champs last year before moving into ECIC II.

Albion finished in a tie for fourth in the Niagara-Orleans League last year, but it won six of its last seven games to win Section VI, Class A-2.

"I knew we had some talent. We didn't come together until the end," said Purple Eagles coach Bruce Blanchard. "This year we should be in the running for the league championship."

This year, Albion is a senior-laden team with seven starters back.

Catcher John Warne was so solid behind the plate last year as a freshman that most teams wouldn't run on him, according to Blanchard. Warne is bigger and stronger this year and will bat fifth. Returning is league all-star shortstop/pitcher Travis Downs.

"I think we're a little deeper team than we had last year -- we got more pitching, more offense. We're hoping for good things," said Blanchard.

A sectional title would be Albion's third in a row.

Frewsburg has won the the Section VI Class C title for five consecutive years. The Bears also went 10-2 to win CCAA II. The Bears return their starting lineup from last year's 15-8 team, including all-star pitcher Thad Johnson, shortstop/pitcher Nick Mitchell, catcher/pitcher Connor Grey and center fielder Dalton Peterson.

Frewsburg played four games in five days during a trip to Myrtle Beach.

"We definitely got a good shot to make a run this year," said coach Jay Grann. "The thing for us is to play solid defense. That's what happened in Myrtle Beach -- we kicked the ball around a lot. If we play defense, we got the pitching and hitting to do some damage."

Pine Valley has won four of the last five Class D titles. The team was 6-6 last year in CCAA III, but four of the schools are Class C. Pitcher/shortstop Zach Fancher was first team all-state. He's a fastball-curveball guy who brings a lot of leadership and experience. Outfielder Lucas Trombley is one of the team's better hitters. Pitcher/shortstop Lyle Howard been hitting consistently and looks to put up some numbers.

>Returning All-WNY

Frewsburg's Johnson is the only returning All-WNY first-teamer. He also made first team as a sophomore. He's been the CCAA II Player of the Year three times, and he is a six-year starter and three-sport athlete.

During the team's trip to Myrtle Beach, he hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh to cap a 4-3 win. "He's a definite threat for us. He's not going sneak up on anybody," said Grann, his coach.

Johnson has signed with St. Bonaventure, making him the fifth member of his family to attend Bona on scholarship. Two brothers, Cael and Asa, are pitchers on the Bona baseball team. Brother Seth and sister Anneli earned scholarships for swimming.

Johnson batted .556 with four home runs, 16 RBI and had a 1.37 ERA.

Returning second team All-WNYers are: Ben Zaccagnino (JFK), Dave Crowley (Orchard Park), Dan Karstedt (Eden), Patrick Quinn (Iroquois) and Christ Conley (Lake Shore).

Conley started the season 8 for 14 at the plate and has reached base 14 out of 19 times.

>Georgetown Cup

The Catholic schools are playing each other in back-to-back games this season. Timon/St. Jude plays St. Joe's on Wednesday and Friday this week. St. Joe's and rival Canisius don't meet until the last week of the season.

"We're bringing back the two-game series, that way you see a different pitcher," said league chairman and Timon coach Jim Palano. "It's better baseball. It's more like the Georgetown Cup."

Canisius retired the Georgetown Cup in 2011 by winning it for the third straight year. They took two from St. Francis to sweep the three-game final. It was the sixth straight year the teams have met in the final. The Crusaders got some quality workouts in during a spring trip to Tampa/St. Petersburg.

Matt Michalski of St. Francis joins Zach Hayes of Timon/St. Jude and Tyler Mills of St. Joe's as returning All-Catholic selections.

Catcher Zach Hayes is in his fourth season behind the plate for Timon. George Szczublewski returns at third base, and Quinn Danahy will bat cleanup.

St. Mary's coach Mike Wagner, now in his 12th season, said the work his players put in during the offseason in the A-turf Program at Eastern Hills Mall and at New Era in Depew is paying dividends. The team won its first five games this season and looked strong in the Mingo Bay Tournament at Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"The payoff is they're pretty much skilled when they get to you, and when you get to the varsity level, it's hard to teach kids with the limited time you have, so this really helps," he said.

Junior shortstop Brian Dudek, junior pitcher Lucas Schaefer and senior second baseman Brett Bauth shore up the infield. Three sophomores who have earned starting spots are Jon Andressen, Brett Helmbrecht and Marc Gonzalez.

St. Joe's Mills moves from center field to shortstop coming off a season in which he hit .397 from the leadoff spot. He is one of seven returning starters. Matt Matre will be a key starter on the mound. The Marauders also return the league's batting leader from a year ago, second baseman Jared Baldinelli, who hit .471. The team benefited from five scrimmage games in Orlando this spring.

>Team chatter

Depew returns eight starters, including league all-star catcher Josh Martin, who has signed with St. Bonaventure. Martin led the Wildcats last season with a .489 batting average with 17 RBIs. He holds the school record for highest batting average at .565, a mark he set as a sophomore.

Two other players are off to college next year but will play football. Aaron Ertel signed a letter of intent in March with Division II Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., while Joe Miller will line up in the backfield for Mount Union, a perennial Division III power in Alliance, Ohio. The baseball team began the season with a five-day trip to Myrtle Beach, where it took part in the Cal Ripken Experience.

Matt Smith, Jonah Heim and Matt Wilhelm got Amherst off to a 3-0 start and look to contend in ECIC III.

Shortstop Doug Rebman leads five returning senior starters as Pioneer chases the top spot in ECIC III.

Maryvale builds around all-stars Mike Kaelin and Trevor Karek.

Nothing like a win over last year's Class AA champions to start the season right. Lancaster pulled off a 2-1 win over Clarence in the season opener. Starter Ted Wilson scattered five hits to get the win. Among the team's senior leaders are Tyler Hoffhines and James Krolikowski.

Williamsville North ace Kyle Zurak looks for support from an experienced infield, including shortstop P.J. Mistretta, third baseman Zach Thomas and first baseman Tyler Green.

Iroquois is a lot of coaches' pick to win ECIC II with Zach Trumpler, Matt Keating and Ryan Kaufmann. Patrick Quinn is back at the mound after an all-star season.

Starpoint will feature Austin Speaker, Alex O'Donnell and seniors Matt Miller and Cory Regnet.

Williamsville East looks to be in the thick of the ECIC II race with returning All-WNY honorable mentions Tom Kline and Tom Styn.

Tyler Piasecki, Dan Christmann, Mike Calandra and Damian Powers helped Williamsville South win its first three games.

Ian Allen of East Aurora was co-MVP of ECIC III last year as a sophomore.

Seniors Kyle Sherman, Brandon Luther, Trey Bley and Clayton Cerne are back for North Collins, which is coming off a 17-4 season in which it reached the Class D final for the fourth year in a row.

"The usual scenario takes place for us again at this time of year," said coach Paul Kellner. "We have a couple of openings and capable replacements but can't be sure yet as to who wants it the most."

Austin Alonge of Westfield was the CCAA III MVP last year.

Roy-Hart's 5-0 record includes wins over Akron and Wilson. Senior pitcher/infielder Eric Adolph holds many single season and career batting records for CSAT. Akron sophomore Tommy Jones, who won three games last year, including the Tigers' first win over Albion since 1993, leads the staff. The team won its last eight league games last season to finish 10-4. Catcher Cameron Sidote (.385), second baseman Pat Diez (.412) and pitcher Brad Schlosser are four-year starters for Wilson.

Portville's core of three-year players -- Colt Lowe, Ryan Marcellin, and Michael and Christopher Querrieo -- look to graduate past the sectional semifinals, where they've been ousted the last three years.

Cattaraugus/Little Valley returns 11 players from last year's 13-6 team. Coach Chuck Senn Sr. enters his 39th season with a 552-251 mark.

>Bats get a makeover

New Section VI chairman is Jim Conley of Newfane, who retired from teaching in 2003. He coached the Panthers from 1976 to 2007.

The sites of this year's Section VI championship games and the new restrictions on bats are among the items on his plate.

Sal Maglie Stadium in Niagara Falls, Diethrick Park in Jamestown and several high school fields have been reserved for the finals. Games will not be played at Coca-Cola Field this year because of a scheduling conflict. Conley said the section has decided to see who makes the final before committing to a site. The decision will be based on the geography to cut down on travel, though he did say the Class C and D finals would most likely stay at Diethrick.

For a bat to be legal, Conley said, it must be BBCOR certified and be stamped accordingly. The idea is to reduce the speed in which the ball comes off the bat to reduce injuries.

Conley said he's always found it curious that batters, baserunners, on-deck batters and bat boys wear helmets, but the players most in the line of fire -- pitchers -- don't.

"I think the pitcher is in the most vunerable spot as anybody," he said. "I'm not saying he should [wear a helmet], I'm saying they should try to do something to try and protect the pitcher. What the NFAA did is a step in the right direction."

Conley said when he first started coaching, he threw batting practice about 10 feet in front of the mound without a pitching screen. When aluminum bats were introduced he had a change of heart.

"When the balls started whizzing by me and I didn't even see them, I bought a screen," he said.