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Softball outlook

Plimpton rolling along

Chelsea Plimpton and Williamsville South seemed to have picked up right where they left off.

Plimpton, the three-time Western New York pitcher of the year, was the Class A Player of the Year and a second-team All-American for South, which is coming off its third state title in seven seasons. South is off to a 4-0 start as Plimpton has struck out 59 and walked none; that makes the St. John's University signee 87-5 with 1,079 strikeouts in her career.

South's success is also due to the other member of its battery, Lisa Fronczak (.409 last year while playing second), as well as second baseman Lauren Falzone (.327), who is the third member of South's tri-captaincy. Carolyn Schaus plays an outstanding third base. Claire Gerlach (school record nine RBIs in one game) has become the leader in the outfield for South, which moved to ECIC II after dominating ECIC III in recent years.

"It's a much more balanced league," said South coach Gerry Gentner, whose Billies are 167-16 over the last seven years and have won five straight sectional titles. "Now we really have to be ready to play every day. There's more balance with Williamsville East [all but two players back], West Seneca East [returns league pitcher of the year junior Michelle Lattner], Iroquois [off to 3-0 start] and Hamburg."

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Ken West remembers

When Kenmore West lost in the state semifinals in 2005, the players scooped up some diamond dirt to keep them focused on where they wanted to get back to the following season. Last year the Blue Devils were stopped short of their goal, and if they need any reminder of that, all they have to do is look at their wrists.

The Blue Devils are sporting bracelets that feature the score of last year's Section VI Class AA final loss to West Seneca West (8-0) as well as the date of this year's state final (June 9).

"It's just a reminder for us to keep working hard," said coach Matt Chimera, whose team went 20-5 last year for its sixth 20-win year in eight seasons and a seventh Niagara Frontier League title in 10 years. "It's to remind us of how bad we felt."

Leading the way for West are two All-Western New York first-teamers -- overpowering P Michelle Krier and speedy OF Courtney Keleher. Krier and her great rise pitch led to a school-record 224 strikeouts and an 18-3 season, which included two no-hitters as well as a win against Plimpton that ended South's 78-game winning streak against Western New York teams.

West should be tested hardest in the NFL -- as usual -- by North Tonawanda, which returns seniors Shannon Wilson and Chrissy Fretthold. Also tough will be Niagara-Wheatfield, led by twin sisters Kyrstin and Kaylee Lekki. Cassie Koehne is back for Kenmore East while Grand Island has shown early improvement under first-year coach Patrick Lester.

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ECIC's shiny diamonds

Congratulate Debby Schrufer on Frontier's undefeated start in ECIC I and quicker than a line drive she'll say, "it's early." The Falcons are 3-0 behind seniors and future college players third baseman Sam Rajski (St. Bonaventure), shortstop Shelly Seeger (St. Bonaventure) and second baseman/pitcher Amanda Norman (Mercyhurst) as well as junior catcher Bridgett Henry. However, the division is stacked.

"In Division I, any team can win," said Schrufer, who survived a great 1-0 battle with Williamsville North last week. North returns Canisius-bound 1B Kerry Ulmer and will be tested at the Victor Tournament on Saturday. . . . West Seneca West is the defending Class AA champion after coming from the 10th seed to beat Kenmore West. . . . Junior Amanda Cannizzo, a starter since seventh grade, is back for Sweet Home after batting .475 last year. . . . Jamestown imports winning to the diamond as several members of the sectional championship basketball team are playing for Ken Rickan, who coaches both sports. . . . And oh, by the way: There are also seemingly permanent top 10 poll members Lancaster and Clarence. Catcher Samantha Bundy, shortstop Kelly Jones and first baseman Sarah Anthon are back from a Lancaster team that graduated only two players. Clarence put up 16 runs against Williamsville North on Saturday. That party you hear going on in ECIC III is Maryvale and Depew celebrating the move by Williamsville South (10 straight league titles) to ECIC II. The Flyers and Wildcats can also smile about 3-0 starts and are the only teams over .500. Maryvale has swept Depew the last three years, but while Maryvale graduated five starters, pitcher Jessica Sisti (5-0 last year) is one of five key seniors back for Depew.

Some big bats and arms are in the smallest division. Cleveland Hill and Alden each return powerful batteries. Alden junior catcher Jordan Rutkowski (.515) is back as is fellow junior and All-WNY first-team catcher Alyssa Luksch (seven triples last year) of Cleveland Hill, who was the league Player of the Year. The co-Pitchers of the Year were senior Carlissa Cole of Alden and junior Kristen Rohe of Cleveland Hill. Cleveland Hill has the early edge in the league with a 3-0 start, including a win over defending champ Alden, 4-3, on April 2. JFK has been to the state final four twice in the last four years. . . . Sophomore first baseman Felicia Hulslander, a solid hitter, will try to help East Aurora get into the mix.

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Around the horn

*Monsignor Martin fans can circle May 14 on the calendar. That's when Holy Angels will meet defending champion Sacred Heart at Amherst Pepsi Center in a rematch of last year's championship game. Sacred Heart senior right-hander Mallory Pemberton handed the Angels (18-2) their only two losses last year. The Sharks went 13-2 and 9-0 in the league last year to improve to 34-1 in league play over the last three seasons, including two straight final wins over Holy Angels. Sacred Heart, which also returns Alison Pyszczynski, played Williamsville South tough in a 2-0 loss at the North Tonawanda Tournament.

All-WNY honorable mentions and pitchers Emily Zuchlewski (City Honors) and Meghan Bona (Hutch-Tech) are back after helping their teams to the Thompson Trophy League I final, won by Honors. Grover Cleveland won the title in League II last year.

Senior pitcher Jenelle Lewis helps make Barker the team to beat in the Niagara-Orleans League. . . . Wilson returns only one starter but should be in the mix behind 32nd-year coach Larry Lash, who will coach his 700th career game this season.

Falconer repeated as Class B champs, made its third straight appearance in the state final four and finished atop the small school poll, but is second behind league rival Fredonia in this season's first rankings. . . . Cassadaga Valley won the Class C title and shared the CCAA Division II title at 13-1, but graduated top pitcher Alicia Morley. Co-champ Frewsburg and coach Jon Blanchard (five league titles in 15 years) will gun for the top spot this year behind ace junior pitcher Juliana Walker. . . . Everyone is back for Class D champion Forestville, which should get a stern test again from Panama and Lauren Larson, who struck out 20 against Forestville last year. Coach Deb Palmer is approaching 350 career wins for the Panthers, who shared CCAA III with Westfield last year. . . . Former UB tight end Chad Bartosek is in his first season coaching his alma mater at Salamanca. . . . Sherman is poised to rebound from a 1-15 season behind pitcher Lacie Munson and freshman catcher Dakota Persons.

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All-WNY youngsters

Almost half of the coaches' all-WNY team last year comprised underclassmen (18 of 39), including six first-team selections, three of them juniors. Among the top youngsters is Ripley junior Sam Eimers, a first-team all-state pick in Class D, the CCAA III Player of the Year. Immaculata senior Ashley Szpara was a Class D second-teamer.

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