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Strong softball teams brought to you by the letter B, as in Class B

2015 postseason champions: Class AA – Orchard Park (state champion). Class A –Starpoint. Class B – Alden. Class C – Chautauqua Lake. Class D – Pine Valley. Monsignor Martin – St. Mary’s of Lancaster.

The gauntlet class: Alden returns eight from last year’s state Class B semifinalist but recent history shows experience might not be enough to repeat. Eden returned many from its 2014 state-title winner last season but lost to Depew in the Class B-1 semifinals. “The competition is very good,” Alden coach Jeff Kryszczuk said. “We’ll see where the chips fall.”

Alden is led in the pitching circle and on offense by all-star senior Laura Kratzke. She’s batting over .400 and has an ERA of just over 1.00. No. 2 pitcher Brooke Strausbaugh, a junior, is 12-0 with three saves the past two seasons and batting over .400. Battery-mate Victoria Atkins is in her fourth varsity season and will attend Niagara County Community College. First baseman Sara Pasternack is batting around .470.

Depew junior Karsen Cotton is on the Division I radar and followed up last Friday’s perfect game with a combined no-hitter Monday. She has 613 career strikeouts but the strongest part of the fifth-year pitcher’s game, according to coach Dan Seelig, is her defensive play. “She might be the best defensive pitcher playing her position,” he said. Returning All-WNYer Nicole Ross is captain and plays solid defense at third base and catcher. Abby Nicometi hits over .400 and is among the Wildcats’ leaders in RBIs and runs scored.

Other contenders: Now that Olean has clinched its third straight division title, it turns its focus toward sectionals, where it could very well be a No. 4 seed in B-1 even though it is currently 14-3 overall, 11-1 in CCAA East I. Leading the charge has been Brinee Torrey (third baseman, hitting over .400) and identical twins Bethany Fratercangelo (.400 hitter, catcher) and Sophia Fratercangelo (.400, second base).

Eden has pitching depth as usual. State-title team holdover Jill Murray is the big-game starter of the staff. Third baseman Hayley Kobie also was a member of the 2014 state title team.

Akron is among the teams that could block Eden’s path in Class B-2. Akron, the Niagara-Orleans League champion, is led by returning All-WNY sophomore catcher Abby Stone, who calls every pitch and is batting near .530.

AA favorites: Lancaster may have graduated seven from last year, but that didn’t stop the area’s top large school from clinching at least a tie for the ECIC I title. Junior shortstop Kara Paradowski is a four-year starter who has verbally committed to Canisius. Three-year starter and captain Jenna Neumaier hit close to .400 last year, belted a homer Monday that helped the Legends clinch their share of the division and will cap her senior year as valedictorian.

Clarence not only overcame a 0-3 start to contend for the division but also injuries with third-year player Hannah Marlowe shifting from first to take over pitching duties after the Red Devils lost Emily Schmitt for an undetermined length of time to an injury.Clarence has received contributions from each of the 19 players on its roster. Meghan Milone, whose sister Katie was a four-year starter for Clarence who went on to St. Bonaventure, has proven to be a tough out in the No. 9 hole for coach Todd Banaszak’s crew as has four-year starter Gabby Keller. Four-year starters Gabby Keller and Ashley Carney are holdovers from the 2014 state final four team. Among the players Frontier will rely on as it looks to win its first Section VI section title since 2007 are seniors Emily Johnston, Vic Castricone, Jensen Lee and Maddie Jacobs. Defending state champion Orchard Park should remain in the mix as it returns tournament MVP and four-year starter Alex Sheehy and senior captain and three-year starter Lydia Petricca. Williamsville North should be in the hunt again with captains Lexi Mulone and Emily Nicosia among the Spartans to watch, while Kenmore West and Niagara-Wheatfield should also be tough to handle out of the Niagara Frontier League.

Easts are beasts: While ECIC I’s Hamburg should be among the contenders in Class A, keep an eye on ECIC II co-leaders West Seneca East and Williamsville East. Both entered the week tied for first with a winner-takes-the-division clash slated for Wednesday at West Seneca East.

West Seneca East fell in A-2 final to Starpoint but returns three key players – pitcher Anilese Kelly, Rachel Funk and Madyson Jaszcz, who will swim in college at Cleveland State. Sam Sebastian moved over from baseball to take over the softball program for Rich Mattison, who now coaches at nearby Hamburg.

Williamsville East, the defending A-1 champion, has received fine play from many – including third-year shortstop, freshman Christy Mack, top pitcher, junior Jess Weaver, and third-year first baseman, junior Bri Bucello. Bucello finished second in hitting on the Flames last season.

Other contenders in Class A include Lew-Port, whose only two losses in 12 games came against Kenmore West. The 10 league wins are six more than the Lancers compiled last season in the NFL. Key players include Allie Baio, Emma Waechter and Jenna Rhue.

Maryvale and Amherst also can’t be overlooked. Maddy O’Heir and Lauren Sears are a dynamite pitching and hitting tandem for Maryvale, while Amherst has received solid performances from many, including fourth-year starter Abby Decicco and Hannah Bardeen.

Around the horn: Williamsville South is young but coach Julie Murphy likes the team’s game-day desire. Kate Quagliana, Abby Ferenzy and Leah Czerwinski hope to carry South to its second sectional final in three seasons.

• Even though City Honors graduated All-WNY pitcher Samantha Caico, the Centaurs look like they could be a tough out in Class B-1. Julia Panepinto, Caitlin Mudra and Ariana DeJesus-Rodriguez are tri-captains for the 8-1 outfit playing an independent schedule. • Cassadaga Valley took its lumps last season but is giving them this year as it has clinched CCAA West II and will be among the contenders in Class C. Junior Alyssa Hahn is averaging nine strikeouts and yielding three hits per game to lead the Cougars. Leadoff hitter Lexi Ruiz is batting over .600 and playing dynamite at shortstop. Coach Ken Balling starts five sophomores, three juniors and a freshman. Frewsburg always is a tough out, as is Maple Grove. Cleveland Hill and Holland are the other contenders in this class.

• In Class D, Pine Valley reigns supreme because it has one of the top pitchers in Western New York in Jenna Wilcox, who set a school record last week for strikeouts in a single game with 20. It looks to survive challenges from hard-hitting North Collins and an all-around strong squad in Franklinville. PV and Franklinville split their two division meetings and are tied for the CCAA East II lead. All-WNY returnee Ally Haskell has recorded three of her nine career no-hitters this season for the Panthers. She’s averaging 15 strikeouts per game and has impeccable control. She’s also batting .452 with three homers and 17 RBIs. Younger sister Dani, an eighth-grader and the catcher, is hitting .427 with three dingers and 15 RBIs, while senior Jenna Hicks has four homers. and is batting .398.

• Sacred Heart has moved ahead of Mercy for first place in the Monsignor Martin Association as a result of Monday’s 7-3 win. Senior Shannon Gilbert is hitting over .500, while cleanup hitter Anna Iacovitti is batting over .400.

Defending playoff champion St. Mary’s is 3-7 overall but 2-2 in the league as it has played a tough nonleague slate that includes Class AA schools.Erin Hufford leads the charge with an average over .651.

Diamond gems: Division I or II talents to keep an eye on before graduation include West Seneca East catcher Rachel Funk (Niagara), West Seneca West pitcher/outfielder Morgan Altman (Canisius), Sacred Heart first baseman Shannon Gilbert (Edinboro), Frontier pitcher Emily Johnston (Niagara), Eden third baseman Hayley Kobie (Tiffin) and Clarence DP Gabby Keller (University at Buffalo).

2015 All-WNY undergraduates: P Karsen Cotton-10 (Depew), P Laura Kratzke-11 (Alden), C-Abby Stone-9 (Akron), C Jessica Wilcox-11 (Pine Valley).2015 All-WNY Large School first team undergraduates: SS Emily King-11 (Kenmore West). Honorable mentions: Emilee Hanlon-9 (Dunkirk), Maddison Kildonas-10 (Niagara-Wheatfield), Carli Leo-11 (Niagara Falls), Morgan Altaman-11 (West Seneca West).

2015 All-WNY Small School first team undergraduates: P Karsen Cotton-10 (Depew), P Ally Haskell-9 (Franklinville), P Laura Kratzke-11 (Alden), SS Mekenna Leid-10 (Fredonia), P Jill Murray-11 (Eden), C Abby Stone-9 (Akron), C Jessica Wilcox-11 (Pine Valley). Honorable mention: Jenna Wlostowski-9 Jackie Zwicker-10 (Maryvale). Olivia Littman-10 (Newfane), Camie McKracken-11 (Portville).

Key dates: Section VI Tournament starts May 18. Overall Section VI Class finals/state qualifiers, May 27, Far West Regionals, June 4, State final four at Moreau (near Glens Falls), June 11. Monsignor Martin quarterfinals, May 21; semifinals, May 23; final, May 25.

Prep Talk Player of the Year favorites: Kratzke, Cotton, Murray, Funk, Altman, Johnston, Keller, Stone.