The wildest ride in Wildcats softball history did not end with Depew hoisting the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championship plaque, but it did produce lots of highlights, memorable moments and a couple of Coaches All-Western New York first team honorees.
Those two picks, junior pitcher Karsen Cotton and senior infielder Abby Nicometi, shared the leading role during Depew’s lengthy playoff run, which included three walk-off wins en route to its first state final four appearance.
“Both of them had roles,” said Depew’s Dan Seelig, who earned Coach of the Year honors from his Western New York peers. “Abby was really our offensive star … and Karsen on the mound, she expected to pitch well. They both played at a high level. It’s an honor for them to be All-Western New York players.”
While Depew received contributions from everyone, a team needs an outstanding pitcher to succeed – hence, Cotton’s importance to the Wildcats’ success. The four-year starter carries a 66-15 mark with 672 career strikeouts into her senior season. This is the third straight year she has earned a spot on the All-WNY first team, which is selected by area coaches.
The 5-foot-9 Cotton got strikeouts in bunches (181 in 142 innings) but also did a phenomenal job forcing hitters to get themselves out by changing location and speed.
She did this exceptionally well during the postseason when she notched three shutouts and kept solid-hitting teams Olean (three hits), Alden (three hits in 10 innings) and Bath (three hits) in check.
The triumph over Alden in the Class B-1 final, which enabled Depew to win its first sectional title since 2011, was perhaps Cotton’s finest playoff performance. Locked in a pitcher’s duel with fellow All-WNY first-team pick Laura Kratzke, Cotton shackled the Bulldogs, who were looking to repeat as Section VI champions.
Nicometi made sure Cotton’s performance didn’t go to waste by driving in the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th in a 1-0 triumph settled via international tie-breaker rule with a base runner stationed at second base to start the inning.
Nicometi’s title-clinching hit highlighted a playoff run in which each of her hits were seemingly huge. Her two-out, eighth-inning single in a wild 7-6 win over Eden in the overall Class B final wound up slipping past an outfielder enabling the decisive run to scamper home. That capped a 3-for-5 day for Nicometi. In the regional final victory over Bath, she went 2 for 4 with a home run.
The ECIC III Player of the Year finished with a .427 average, 28 runs scored and 21 RBIs. The former outfielder made just two errors all season flipping between first and second base.
"Every time Abby came to the plate we knew a big play was going to happen for us,” Seelig said.
Kratzke, Stone repeat
Cotton wasn’t the only repeat selection as Kratzke and Akron’s Abby Stone earned first-team spots for the second straight season.
Kratzke, a senior heading to Mount Union, earned her second straight ECIC IV Pitcher of the Year honor, recording an ERA of 1.53 during the regular season and 0.29 in the postseason. She struck out 131 and walked just three. She took a line drive off her pitching arm early in the Class B-1 final but still carried a shutout into the 10th inning. Kratzke helped the Bulldogs win three division titles in four years, batting .351 during her career with 14 home runs and 100 RBIs.
Stone can flat out hit. After batting .596 with nine homers and 40 RBIs last season, the sophomore catcher and fourth-year veteran hit .567 with 26 of her 38 hits going for extra bases. She accounted for 90 of her team’s runs, including 51 RBIs.
A two-time All-WNY field hockey pick, Stone finished with a 1.134 slugging percentage, .646 on-base percentage and .980 fielding percentage.
Others earning spots on the All-WNY first team include:
• Fredonia junior Hannah Cybart recorded an ERA of 0.95, two no-hitters and five shutouts to help the Hillbillies reach the Class B-2 final. At the dish, she hit .486 and struck out only once in 70 at-bats.
• Sophomore pitcher and West Seneca East cleanup hitter Anilese Kelly struck out 132 in 113 innings, finished with a 1.64 ERA and limited foes to a .163 average. With the bat in her hands, Kelly hit .430 with 12 doubles, three homers and 24 RBIs.
• Rachel Perelstein struck out 11 in Nardin’s win over Sacred Heart in the Monsignor Martin Association championship game. The junior and league pitcher of the year finished with an ERA of 2.57 and yielded just 24 hits in 38 innings of work.
• Lancaster junior shortstop Kara Paradowski, The News’ Prep Talk Player of the Year, recorded 27 singles during a season in which she hit .398 to set the school record for career singles (95).
• Orchard Park sophomore first baseman Madison Stewart hit .505 in her first season as a starter, finishing with 46 hits, 34 runs, 26 RBIs, .531 on-base percentage and .824 slugging percentage. She belted a two-run homer in the Section VI Class AA final win over Niagara Falls.
• Versatile junior infielder Madison Klidonas led Niagara Wheatfield in almost every offensive category – including batting average (.460), hits (29), doubles (9), homers (two), RBIs (22), slugging percentage and OPS. She also has a knack for making opposing pitchers work hard by taking them deep into counts.
• Sophomore Jenna Rhue helped Lew-Port make history as it not only earned a share of its first Niagara Frontier League title but also captured its first sectional title. Rhue finished with 33 RBIs, including five game-winning ones. The catcher only yielded three stolen bases and did not allow a passed ball. She’s a diamond gem in the classroom too, carrying a 95 average.
• Williamsville East freshman Christy Mack hit .426 with three homers, six doubles, two triples and 21 runs scored. The sure-handed shortstop finished with a .778 slugging percentage, had 47 assists and made just eight errors in 20 games.
• Hamburg junior catcher Heather Haberman not only has excelled on the field but also in the classroom. Haberman, a member of the National Honor Society, hit .466 and finished with a fielding percentage of .919. Coach Rich Mattison said Haberman has great leadership skills.
• Shannon Gilbert heads to Edinboro coming off a season in which she earned Monsignor Martin Player of the Year. The Sacred Heart catcher’s top memories include a 3-for-3 effort in a regular-season win over Nardin and a 6-for-6 performance over two games at the Depew Tournament.
All-WNY softball team fast facts
P Laura Kratzke, Alden 12 Repeat first-team selection finishes her career with 41 wins, 510 strikeouts and a program-record .774 win percentage.
P Hannah Cybart, Fredonia 11 Three-year starter has a 28-2 career record, including 18-2 last spring in helping Hillbillies reach Class B-2 final.
P Anilese Kelly, West Seneca East 10 Third-year starter dominated in the circle and at the plate in helping Trojans capture the Section VI Class A title.
P Rachel Perelstein, Nardin 11 Third-year starter struck out 56 in 38 innings to help Gators win Monsignor Martin title and reach state Catholic final.
P Karsen Cotton, Depew 11 Finished 18-4 with 0.73 ERA and allowed earned runs in just two of Wildcats’ six playoff games. Also hit .400.
C Abby Stone, Akron 10 Repeat first-team selection and fourth-year starter hit .567 and drove in an impressive 51 runs in 19 games.
C Jenna Rhue, Lewiston-Porter 10 In addition to finishing with a fielding percentage of 1.000, NFL Player of the Year hit .600 with 33 RBIs.
C Heather Haberman, Hamburg 11 Strong-armed receiver led the Bulldogs in home runs (six), drove in 24 runs and finished with a .466 batting average.
C Shannon Gilbert, Sacred Heart 12 Capped scholastic career by helping Sharks reach MMA. She hit .550, compiling a .595 on-base percentage.
INF Abby Nicometi, Depew 12 Clutch-hitting 1B/2B at her best during Wildcats’ run to state final four, including walk-off RBI double in B-1 final.
INF Madison Stewart, Orchard Park 10 First-year starter played like a seasoned veteran in helping OP make its second straight state Class AA final appearance.
INF Madison Klidonas, Niagara Wheatfield 11 Three-year starter hit .460 with 22 RBIs; finished with .941 fielding percentage while seeing time at three positions.
INF Kara Paradowski, Lancaster 11 Prep Talk Player of the Year and Canisius verbal commit led Legends in hits (33), runs (26) and stolen bases (eight).
INF Christy Mack, Williamsville East 9 Third-year veteran hit .452 with runners in scoring position, .426 overall, and struck out just seven times all season.