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Sometimes the easy words are the ones that sink you -- words like "agate" or "perennial."

But on Saturday, the area's top spellers may have set a record for words spelled correctly.

"Here we are after the first break, and most of our contestants are still in competition," said Buffalo News promotions manager Christye Peterson. "I believe we have never had such good spellers entered before."

To get there, the 12 girls and eight boys had to pass a written test and then stand alone before a large crowd in the auditorium of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Museum to spell words out loud -- sometimes words they'd never heard before. The contestants and the words that tripped them up:

"Catamaran" sank Lauren O'Mara of Fillmore Central School.

Putting a double "n" in "avionics" jettisoned Jose Gonzalez of Herman Badillo Bilingual Community School in Buffalo.

Jayson Greene of Olean Middle School doubled the "r" in "perennial."

Arianna Melendez of Brocton Central School spelled "limocolous" -- meaning "living in mud" -- with a "y".

Therese Deutschlander of Aurora Middle School in Lancaster missed on "prerogative."

Jessica Burt of West Seneca West Middle School misspelled "portcullis."

Kristin Grimaldi of St. Christopher's in the Town of Tonawanda spelled "bittern" with just one "t".

After a mispronunciation by word-reader Cynthia Pearson, Amilee Johnson of Clarence Middle School inserted an extra letter into "interregnum."

Matthew Straub of SS. Peter & Paul School, Hamburg, spelled the mineral "aggot," not "agate."

Christopher Fitch of Oakfield-Alabama Elementary left out the second "o" in "noxious."

John Fritz of Livonia Junior-Senior High substituted an "i" for the "y" in "abysmal."

Meeghan Mathiesen of Edward Town Middle School in Niagara-Wheatfield went down on "stein."

Leanne Marciszewski of Lyndonville Central misspelled "anemometer."

Elsa Schmidt of Attica Middle School failed on "schefflera."

The five finalists were:

Rachel Moran of Western New York Teaching Parents of Williamsville, who misspelled "stannous."

David Liebner of St. John the Baptist in the Town of Tonawanda left out an "s" in the middle on a toughie -- rescissible.

Andrea Pacheco of Buffalo's Visual and Performing Arts Academy went out over a meat-filled turnover called "empanada," which she spelled as "empanata."

That left last year's winner, Jonathan Leahy of Queen of Heaven in West Seneca, facing Craig Bucki of St. Gregory the Great in Amherst, who also competed last year.

Jonathan misspelled the German cookie "springerle" with a "y" at the end.

Under the spelling bee rules, Craig got a shot at it, and he spelled it correctly. Then he had to spell "Braillist," which he aced to win the first prize of $100 and the opportunity to represent Western New York at the National Spelling Bee in June.

Craig also won the Samuel Lewis Sugarman Award of a $50 bond, the New International Dictionary from Merriam-Webster and $25 for the highest score on the written qualifying test.

Jonathan won $75 for second place, Andrea $50 for third, David $35 for fourth and Rachel $25 for fifth.

In addition, Andrea won the New Encyclopedia Britannica, Rachel won the deluxe electronic edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, and Jessica won a Franklin Electronic Publisher's "Word Master 1055."

Leanne won the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy from Scripps-Howard, sponsors of the national bee, while Elsa won the Associated Press new world map.

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