A tough break may have foiled Depew's quest for the perfect ending to its softball season. It doesn't change the fact that the Wildcats completed another historic postseason run because they had the perfect difference-maker leading the charge in Karsen Cotton.
Cotton, who tossed a no-hitter against unbeaten Babylon in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association semifinals and yielded just one unearned run in the state final, headlines this year's edition of the 14-player All-Western New York first team, which is selected by area coaches. Half of the honorees are multi-time selections with two earning first team laurels for at least the third straight season.
That includes Cotton, the Buffalo News Prep Talk Awards Softball Player of the Year, who earned first-team honors for a fourth straight season to cap her six-year career with the Wildcats.
While it takes contributions from everyone to win, having a Division I talent and big-game pitcher like Cotton proved vital to Depew's success.
Cotton, who will pitch at Niagara University, yielded just one earned run during the postseason in helping Depew reach its first state Class B championship game. A catcher's interference call on a bang-bang play at home in the third inning accounted for the only run scored in the final – a 1-0 loss to unbeaten Solvay of Section III.
With Cotton, the Wildcats won six straight division titles, reached six straight Section VI finals, captured two regionals championships and advanced to the only two state final four appearances in program history. Eighteen of her 83 career wins came in the playoffs.
"Do we have this much success without Karsen, the answer is no," Wildcats coach Dan Seelig said. "Any softball team who makes a run to a state final four or a state title has an elite pitcher. It is virtually impossible to get there with average pitching. Depew was fortunate to have Karsen for six years."
During this year's playoffs, Cotton struck out 64 in 49 innings. For the season, she struck out 195 over 149 innings, yielded just 81 hits and posted an earned-run average below 1.00. She had impeccable control of all her pitches as she walked just 33. She also thrived offensively in the Wildcats' leadoff spot, batting .427 with 19 runs scored and 17 RBIs.
She finished her time at Depew with an 83-20 record, including 61-3 against league foes, a 1.14 ERA and 867 strikeouts in 690.2 innings.
"Karsen has left a legacy that will be remembered forever," Seelig said. "What we will miss most is her positive attitude she brought to our team. It didn't matter what the circumstance was, we always counted on Karsen to lead our team vocally, offensively, and on the field pitching. She also made every player around her better.
"In my years of coaching, and all of the players I've coached, Karsen had the best work ethic and the best attitude. She simply loves playing softball."
More accolades for Stone
Akron junior Abby Stone is a first-teamer for the third time in her four seasons as a starter.
The Tigers' catcher further cemented her status as one of the area's top hitters by batting better than .560 for the third straight season – posting a .564 average. She had a .625 on-base percentage and struck out just once in 39 at-bats.
Stone now has captured six All-WNY first-team honors across two sports during her career. She's also a three-time first team All-WNY field hockey player with the Tigers.
"Abby plays with spirit, makes it fun and hates to lose," said Akron coach Marlene Stone, who's also Abby's mother. "She is that clutch player who hits when you must or picks off a runner when it matters."
-- Kara Paradowski of Lancaster, the 2016 Prep Talk Awards Softball Player of the Year, recorded at least one hit in each of her team's 22 games en route to earning her second straight All-WNY first-team spot. She set the school record for hits in a season (49) and batted .538 out of the leadoff spot. The Canisius-bound shortstop ranks ninth in Lancaster history with a .437 average. She holds program records for hits (165), runs (127), singles (145) and consecutive games (92).
-- Lancaster's ECIC I rival Orchard Park had Madison Stewart earn first-team honors for the second straight year. The first baseman and St. Bonaventure commit hit .397 and scored 26 times for the Section VI Class Class AA runner-up Quakers.
-- Christy Mack, a sophomore who just completed her fourth season, is a repeat selection as the shortstop helped Williamsville East reach it first state final four – where the Flames lost in the Class A championship game, 1-0, to defending champion IV-Maine-Endwell. Mack clubbed five homers and hit .468.
-- Fredonia senior Hannah Cybart, a four-year starter, posted a 14-1 mark. She struck out 107 and yielded just nine walks. She posted a 25-0 career record in league games for the Hillbillies. The three-sport athlete earned team MVP honors in softball, basketball and volleyball.
-- Anilese Kelly recorded a no-hitter and yielded just 66 hits over 92.1 innings for West Seneca East. She said a 15-7 win in the rain over Williamsville East was her top memory of the season. It was a game in which she went 4 for 4 with a home run as the Trojans won despite missing a few regulars due to a scheduling conflict.
Welcome to the club
-- Paradowski's Lancaster teammate Jenna Patterson earned her first All-WNY first-team honor. The junior pitcher and Niagara University verbal commit finished second on the Legends in batting average (.492), notching 29 hits and 18 RBIs. She posted a 10-1 pitching record with a 1.25 ERA.
-- Alyssa Ramarge fueled Olean's run to the Section VI Class A-2 title with her arm and bat. She struck out 114 in 94.2 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .147 average. Offensively, she scored 33 runs and drove in 28 for the Huskies.
-- Abby Borkowski of Kenmore West also had a knack for making contact whenever she batted, as she struck out just four times while posting a .467 average. She had no trouble striking out batters while in the pitcher's circle as she fanned 100 in 105.2 innings en route to an 11-win season.
-- Rachel Steffan quelled rallies with her glove and ignited them with a bat in her hand. Williamsville East's lefty-swinging second baseman led the Flames in batting average (.477) and hit even better with runners in scoring position (team-best .512). Steffan's favorite moment from the season: the team's Far West Regional win over Our Lady of Mercy that secured the Flames first trip to the final four. She hit a booming home run in that triumph.
-- Shortstop Molly Breier of Eden could very well be the most decorated champion on this list. She helped her school win a total of seven state championships (six in volleyball and one in softball in 2014). The senior, who will play volleyball at Edinboro, batted .438 with .534 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot for the always-tough Raiders.
-- Emily Nicosia graduates as the all-time leader in games pitched, innings, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts at Williamsville North. The future Canisius Golden Griffin was at her best during the postseason in helping the Spartans stun unbeaten state No. 1 Lancaster in the semifinals en route to winning their first Section VI title since 2009. Nicosia hit one of her school-record six homers for the season in that contest. She posted a 1.77 ERA.
-- Laura Gregory earned All-Catholic Pitcher of the Year honors after helping Mount Mercy reach the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association championship game. She posted a 0.75 ERA in league play and also batted .652 for the Magic.