Canisius’s Will Lawrence rounds second as he hits a triple against St. Francis during the 2016 season. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Monsignor Martin

The league lost quite a bit of talent to graduation last summer. Still, the good teams figure out a way to compete year after year. Canisius - ranked first among large schools last year - along with St. Joe's and St. Francis figure to be contenders, and St. Mary's of Lancaster also has some good talent.

On the individual side, it's a fine year for catchers. Dennis Gagliaro of St. Joe's is a three-year starter who is a good receiver and who can swing the bat. Will Lawrence of Canisius was a second-team All-Western New York and All-Catholic pick in 2016. He's the leader of a young Crusaders team. Ty Syta of St. Francis adds to the crowd with a good all-around game.

Elsewhere, the name of Jerry Hickson probably sounds familiar from football season. The quarterback can produce offense, as he drove in the only run of the game in a Monday win over St. Joe's. Luke Farinacci is another good one for the Red Raiders. Pitcher Gavin Collura doubles as a pitcher and outfielder for St. Joe's. Teammate Andrew Short is a leader in the infield, and Will Carlone looks like he can play almost anywhere in the field. St. Mary's sometimes gets a little overlooked, but outfielder Alex Bish is a fine player.

Up north

Grand Island and Lockport are off to fast starts in the Niagara Frontier League, but Niagara Falls, Kenmore East and Kenmore West may make a charge at some point. Four all-league players are back in the NFL: Mike Laurrie of Niagara Falls, Sean Pufpaff and Bryce Jellinick of Grand Island, and Dawson Bailey of Lewiston-Porter.

Wilson won its first four games in Niagara-Orleans play, thanks in part to the fact that much of its starting lineup returned this season. John Bender is an ace on the mount for the Lakemen. But Roy-Hart and Albion will have their say in the league race by the middle of May. Eddie Wasnock of Barker - a first-team all-stater in Class C - is one of the top pitchers in the area.

Down south

The top returning player in the region probably is Matt Kruszka of Gowanda. The third baseman who also does a little pitching is a returning all-Western New York pick, and has attracted attention from college teams. He'll lead the Panthers in CCAA East 1, and they'll have to fight off Olean. The Huskies have a new coach in John Zambanini, and a top infielder in Garrett Boldt. In CCAA East 2, power-hitting outfielder Jacob Peterson will try to help Frewsburg defend its Section VI title. But Franklinville (featuring infielder Mark Blecha) and North Collins will be good.

Over in the CCAA West 1, Fredonia is always strong. The Hillbillies have nine starters back from a state finalist team in 2016, including Lucas Voss and Vince Gullo. Still, Maple Grove - topped by pitcher Randall DuBois - already has a win over Fredonia this season. And in CCAA West 2, Brocton - with Steven Krystofiak on the mound - is off to a great start, but Westfield and Clymer also have played well.

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