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Tonawanda taking it one pitch at a time; 18-0 Warriors are top seed in Class B-1

Tonawanda Athletics' Wall of Fame is located in the hallways of Tonawanda High. Students walk by it every day.

Among the plaques is one honoring the 1977 baseball team, which won the Niagara Frontier League and then the Section VI Class A title. Three of its players were drafted: Richard Broas (15th round by the Milwaukee Brewers), Brian Fisher (20th round by the Brewers) and Glen Cook (24th by the Texas Rangers), and three were first-team All-Western New York selections (Broas, Fisher and Brian Hassett). The coach was so great that the town named a field after him (Clint Small).

That 1977 team was the last Tonawanda team to go undefeated for the regular season -- before this year.

As this year's Warriors enter the postseason, coach John Frank has some advice for his players the next time they're near that wall: Don't stop and see what company you're in. Keep walking. Keep looking forward.

"We did mention [the accomplishments of the 1977 team] in passing, but we don't want to get too focused on that," said Frank. "We've got a new season and a clean slate. It was a great accomplishment to do what we did -- but now no one really cares about your record."

That record, by the way, is 18-0 for the top-ranked small school and ECIC IV champion (they went 12-0 in league play). The Warriors begin their postseason at 5 p.m. today at home in the Section VI Class B-1 quarterfinals; they'll take on Newfane, which beat Springville, 8-3, on Monday.

Tonawanda begins the playoffs with an injury question as junior Nick Pullo, who has been a regular designated hitter and has been part of the pitching staff, is questionable with an ailing back.

Coach Frank hopes to have Pullo back for the playoffs, but it's not the first time that his team has encountered injury issues. The perfect season for the Warriors followed preseason news that senior David Battel -- who would have been the team's No. 1 starter -- would be unable to pitch due to an arm issue. Early in the year, All-Western New York third team basketball player Jesse Lalka -- part of the pitching staff -- broke his tibia while sliding into home as a pinch-runner (he was safe).

"A different guy has stepped up each and every game," said Frank. "We're not relying on one guy. No one wants to hear about injuries -- they're not an excuse. That's pretty much what we've done all year."

Seniors who were part of the Warriors' trip to the state championship game in 2010 have combined with younger players to forge a deep squad that has been on the best of winning streaks.

"This has been the deepest team I've had in quite some time. I'm used to rolling out the same nine," said Frank. "We graduated eight seniors last year -- I didn't know how we were going to match up. We won some tight games -- a bounce here or there and things could have gone the other way. Fortunately for us, it didn't. It's a tribute to the kids."

In today's game, sophomore third baseman Ben Stich will lead off, followed by senior pitcher Joey Warthling, senior center fielder Kyle Gallivan and clean-up batter and shortstop Battel. Junior first basemen Jared Zellner is followed by senior second baseman Jake Spencer, junior catcher Steven Warthling and junior left fielder Patrick Ball. Junior Tyler Hughes plays right field while Tim Barnard is the sophomore designated hitter; key reserves are Marc Hurest (senior) and Tyler Davis (junior).

"We respect every team we play," said Frank. "We're going to see everyone's ace or at least their No. 2 somewhere along the line. We're going to take our season as far as possible."

Here's a quick look at the playoff picture:

CLASS AA: All season long the talk of top large schools centered around the ECIC I battles between No. 1 large school Orchard Park, No. 2 Lancaster and No. 4 Clarence.

But who's the top seed? Niagara Falls. The Wolverines, enjoying their best baseball season since the school opened in 2000-01 after the merging of La Salle and the "old" Niagara Falls High, earned the top seed by winning the Niagara Frontier League with a 13-1 mark.

The big three in the competitive ECIC I all finished 11-3, with tiebreakers shuffling the seedings of the teams. Lancaster is second, Clarence third and OP fourth.

That means Falls and OP -- which have received byes to the quarterfinals -- are one win away from a semifinal showdown a week from today. Thursday's quarterfinals could certainly provide tests. Niagara Falls might have to tangle with Williamsville North (which owns a win over Clarence) while OP would host fifth-seeded Lockport, the runner-up to Falls in the NFL.

A few Quakers are trying to bookend their senior year with championships -- David Crowley and Jimmy Fitzgerald were part of OP's state title in football. Crowley is seventh in hits all-time at Orchard Park.

CLASS A-1: The top of the bracket has the two teams which are ranked in the large school top 10: top-seeded Iroquois (No. 4 in the poll) and fourth-seeded Williamsville East (No. 10).

In the bottom bracket is Hutch-Tech, the Cornell Cup I champion which received the second seed based on its 14-0 regular season in the Buffalo Public Schools' league. If Tech gets out of the quarterfinals, a likely semifinal opponent is third-seeded Grand Island, which boasts Hartford-bound hard-throwing pitcher Neil McGinty.

CLASS A-2: Two strong favorites here are top-seeded Amherst, the ECIC III champion after going 10-2, and second-seeded Albion, the Niagara-Orleans champ at 13-1. There is only one other team in the bracket which had a winning record in league play (East Aurora at 7-5).

CLASS B-1: Tonawanda is one of four ranked small schools who have received byes to the quarterfinals: second-seeded Depew (No. 9), third-seeded Dunkirk (No. 2) and fourth-seeded Olean (No. 6).

CLASS B-2: Top-seeded Fredonia -- ranked third in the small school poll -- does not have another team in its half of the bracket that even received a vote in this week's rankings, but there are three in the bottom: Roy-Hart, JFK and Wilson.

CLASS C: If not for Tonawanda's success, Frewsburg just might be the top small school. The Bears are No. 2 in the poll after going 12-0 in CCAA II, seeking a sixth straight sectional title, had a 15-game win streak end Saturday at Falconer, and it is very likely about to boast the state's all-time leading hitter. Senior Thaddeus Johnson has 188 career hits, tied with 2008 Fort Plain (Section II, Albany area) grad Adam Cutspec. He is hitting .514 and is 6-1 with an 0.98 ERA.

CLASS D: You can bet on North Collins being there at the end -- the Eagles have made the last four finals, are ranked 10th among small schools and are seeded second. They'll take aim at top-seeded Pine Valley, which won last year's title.

Note: See High School Extra on D5 for Monsignor Martin playoff picture.