2015 champions: Class AA – Orchard Park; A – Hamburg; B - Maryvale; C – Holland; D – Westfield; Georgetown Cup: St. Francis; Cornell Cup: City Honors.
Who’s good: In Class AA, let’s start with state semifinalist Orchard Park. Despite losing seven players to the college ranks, the Quakers return one of the top talents in the area in Columbia-bound pitcher Ben Wereski. Other future Division I players in the fold include Jacob Lewis (Coppin State), Jake Woodrich (Canisius) and third baseman and four-year starter Jeff Palczewski (University at Buffalo).
Lancaster is a threat to the Quakers’ reign. The teams split the two ECIC I meetings, with the Legends romping last Friday behind Max Giordano’s one-hitter. He’s also batting .455. Junior L.G. Castillo, whose Division I suitors include Oklahoma, is a 6-foot-3 centerfielder who has a cannon for an arm, can hit for power and is extremely fast.
Niagara Falls interrupted Lancaster’s run of four straight sectional final appearances last season and has six returnees hoping to win the district’s first title since 1999. They include senior righty Justin Beyer, who also plays short. Junior Michael Laurrie is hitting .418 with 16 RBIs.
Other contenders include West Seneca West and Niagara Wheatfield.
Defending Class A champs: State semifinalist Hamburg should be playoff ready after spending the regular season in ECIC I with the top Class AA teams. Experience returns in the form of infielders Ryan Dils (who moves to short from second), Austin O’Shei (who moves to catcher from short) and third baseman Griff DeMayo. Senior Garrett Baugher plays centerfield and is 2-0 as team’s top pitcher.
New coach, same Billies: Chris Murphy succeeds Kraig Kurzanski as Williamsville South’s coach. The Billies’ 6-3 start includes wins over fellow Class A contenders Starpoint and Iroquois. Three-year starter Jack Holyoke leads the offense, while Joe Zanelotti is the top pitching option.
Grand Island, which handed Falls its only Niagara Frontier League loss, should also contend in a deep Class which includes last year’s Class B champion Maryvale and Amherst.
Two too many in Class B: Gowanda, last year’s Class C finalist, missed that classification’s cut off by two students.
The Panthers return most of that squad and could be on a collision course with last year’s A-2 champion Olean for the overall B title. Don’t forget about Fredonia, which has won three of the last four titles in B.
Gowanda’s returnees include junior shortstop and leadoff hitter Matt Kruszka (.430, 4 HRs) and top pitcher and older brother, Joe, a power pitcher heading to Niagara CCC. Both are in their fifth season.
Olean’s lineup features pitching depth, including state basketball champion Jake Cavana. Last year’s ace, All-WNY pick Evan Threehouse, has committed to Radford, but hasn’t pitched this season due to an undisclosed injury. However, he remains one of the team’s top hitters.
Other B contenders in a loaded classification include Noah Thompson-led East Aurora, Niagara-Orleans frontrunner Roy-Hart, Alden, Eden and Springville.
Looking to repeat: The Class C front runner includes defending champion Holland, which snapped a 52-year championship drought last season. The Dutchmen’s key returnees include junior Pierce Gardon (.520 average) and seniors Jacob Ratajczak and EJ Staniszewski. A potential contender looms in Olmsted with Gio Chimera, Max Schmarder and Anthony Mendrysa batting .400 or better.
Wolverines the hunted: In Class D, state finalist Westfield remains the team to beat even though it lost stud pitcher Nolan Hunt to graduation. Jonathan Wilson and Greg Schroeder return to lead the Wolverines, who hope to fend off rival Brocton and its senior-heavy pitching lineup that includes potential college prospects Ryan Johnson and Steve Krystofiak.
New playoff format: Winning any championship is difficult. It’ll be a badge of honor to win the Georgetown Cup as Monsignor Martin Association postseason champion. The one-and-done semifinals have been replaced by a best-of-three semifinal series with the higher seed hosting two of the three games. Let the record show, though, that last year’s No. 4 seed and eventual Cup champion St. Francis suggested the change, not the top two seeds who were upset.
“It challenges everyone to keep adding to the depth of their rosters and keep improving,” said St. Joe’s coach Paul Nasca.
Catholic report: Defending champion St. Francis has 12 returnees looking to defend the Cup led by first-team All-WNY outfielder Jake Victor, who is heading to Canisius College. Nick Natchez is back after earning the win in the Cup clincher.
Senior pitcher/first baseman Dan Dallas is Canisius’ highly coveted recruit but not their only one. Zack Mitchell also has caught the eyes of scouts as the speedy centerfielder is an fine contact hitter.
Canisius College-bound Will Frank leads a St. Joe’s team looking to return to the Georgetown Cup final for the fourth time in five years. Others looking to avenge last year’s semifinal loss to St. Mary’s includes Jak Pavcich and Dennis Gagliardio.
Runner-up St. Mary’s returns a lot, too, including college-bound players Chris Gresham (Clarion), Jordan MacKinnon (NCCC), Mitch Dipirro (St. John Fisher) and junior Division I prospect and catcher Joe Barberio.
2015 All-WNY first team underclassmen: INF/P Dan Dallas-11 (Canisius), P Evan Threehouse-11 Olean, OF Dawson Bailey-10 (Lew-Port), OF Leugim Castillo-10 (Lancaster), OF Jacob Victor-12 (St. Francis).
Prep Talk Player of the Year favorites: Dallas, Castillo, Victor, Will Frank (St. Joe’s), Wereski.