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Softball wrapup: OP stayed with it during run to state title

Orchard Park softball wound up being the fairest team of them all once the season ended, but the route to becoming the first girls’ team in school history to win a state championship was far from smooth.

Potholes littered OP’s path to glory, including an embarrassing 11-3 beatdown at Lancaster. Standing 5-4 on May 1 with the team yielding 9.25 runs per loss, the Quakers didn’t seem like they were headed toward anything special let alone the Class AA championship.

But players came to the realization that in order to be a tough out as a team they had to be focused and on top of their games every time out. A desire to not be embarrassed again added fuel to the Quakers’ fire.

“I think that kind of pushed us,” OP co-coach Josh Dannecker said of the loss to Lancaster. “The pitching eventually came around. … Our bats were going most games but it was nice to get some pitching, especially toward the end of the season.”

The Quakers won 14 of their final 16 games, including seven in a row in which they outscored their foes by a combined 80-19.

Besides winning its first state title, OP won its first ECIC I title since 2004 – when co-coach Brittany Bonetto was a player with the program.

The 2015 Quakers became the gold standard not only for future softball teams at OP but other girls team sports at the school.

“Being able to overcome those hurdles is not only important for the girls who were there but for the school moving forward because it shows the girls we can be successful in softball,” Dannecker said.

“You look at our team and our bats, most of the kids on our team were deserving of some sort of recognition,” he said. “Bottom line, they’re able to say they’re state champs whether they’re a freshman on the team or senior. For the rest of your life you’re going to be able to say you’re a state champion and that’s pretty cool.”

OP can also boast being the only program this season to have more than one player earn a spot on the Coaches’ All-Western New York team. Fifth-year starting second baseman Rachel Johnson of Orchard Park, an on-field and off-field leader who led a team fundraiser, will take her talents to Washington & Jefferson. Third-year starting catcher and ECIC I Player of the Year Katie Weimer is heading to UB.

State honors

Weimer earned New York State Class AA Player of the Year honors, while her bench bosses at OP, Dannecker and Bonetto, shared co-coach of the year honors with Archbishop Molloy’s Maureen Rosenbaum, according to a release from the NYSSCOGS.

Penn State-bound Toni Polk of Niagara Falls also received first team All-State Class AA honors. Earning second team Class AA All-State honors: Lancaster’s Olivia Jankowski, along with OP’s Johnson and Hennessy.

Among others earning first- or second-team all-state honors include: Starpoint’s Allison Block (first team, Class A), Sacred Heart’s Maria Gabrielle (second team, Class A), Grand Island’s Alley Cutting (second team, Class A), Depew’s Karsen Cotton (second team, Class B), Alden’s Laura Kratzke (second team, Class B), Nichols’ Olivia Zafuto (second team, Class C) and Pine Valley’s Jessica Wilcox (second team, Class D).

Play it again

Just because an underclassman earns All-WNY one year doesn’t mean the door is open to future selections.

Only four of the seven underclassmen who made the 2014 All-WNY squad earned selections onto this year’s. Leading the way for the repeat picks was Block of Starpoint.

The Prep Talk Awards Softball Player of the Year carried the Spartans to the state final four with a 21-1 record with a 0.83 earned-run average. She tossed a one-hitter in the Section VI Class A-1 final and followed that up with a no-hitter in the overall Class A final. The Canisius commit came within one out of another no-no in Far West Regionals. On offense, she hit .613 with 30 RBIs.

Polk helped Niagara Falls earn a share of the Niagara Frontier League title, batting .532 out of the leadoff spot.

Depew’s Cotton, also a repeat selection, has already verbally committed to the University at Albany even though she just completed her sophomore year. The fourth-year varsity player hit .414 with 22 RBIs and went 14-4 with a 1.36 ERA.

Olean’s Monica Moses struck out 218 in 139 innings and allowed two or fewer hits in games six times this season, including one no-hitter. The future St. John Fisher Cardinal also hit .426 with 21 RBIs.

Although she’s not a repeat pick, Williamsville East’s Sara Armstrong finished her four-year career with a .481 on-base percentage and hit .400 with runners in scoring position. During her senior season, she scored more runs (39) than she had hits (37) while batting .463.