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Defending champion, top-ranked small school Depew is keeping it real

Depew softball isn’t getting too far ahead of itself.

In fact, the Wildcats are fairly well-grounded, considering they have several key pieces back from last year’s Section VI championship squad that carried the program to their first New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Final Four appearance.

Most of that has to do with the team’s character. Some of that has to do with the fact it plays in one of the toughest classifications in the state, as simply getting out of Section VI as champion is a celebrated feat.

But it also has to do with Depew (6-3) taking its share of lumps this spring (two losses to Class AA Williamsville North and another to Class A Williamsville South by combined scores of 22-9) despite its status as the top-ranked small school in the Coaches Poll.

“It was good timing not to have us playing our best but keep in mind we played two top-notch teams,” Wildcats coach Dan Seelig said. “When we played Williamsville North, they did a of lot things our league teams don’t do – squeezing, hitting for power.

“There are plenty of teams that can beat us if we don’t play our best. … We respect everybody we play.”

That doesn’t change the fact that the Wildcats’ goal is quite lofty. They want to win the Section VI title and return to state final four – where not being at their best contributed to a season-ending defeat two wins shy of championship glory last year.

“I think the games we lose are kind of an eye-opener for us, like a wake-up call to know that we’re just not going to win just by going through a game,” senior pitcher and captain Karsen Cotton said. “We have to try our hardest every single time we play.”

That’s the formula that helped fuel the Wildcats’ memorable run to Glens Falls last year. They grinded out games and kept battling even when it seemed like all was lost – including the overall Section VI Class B final, where they trailed, 5-0, but rallied for a 7-6 win in eight innings over Eden. That was one of three walk-off wins during the postseason.

Triumphs like that one, along with the 1-0 win in 10 innings in the B-1 final versus Alden, may be in the past but have fostered a sense of belief that still lingers for a Depew team with seven returning starters. That could prove valuable, especially once the postseason begins later this month.

“I think it carries over a lot playing those super, super close games,” Cotton said. “I think that proved that we could … keep going even when the pressure is on and get the timely hits that we need. I think that proves a lot this year that we need to start doing that this year and we will.”

While no two seasons are alike, having an ace pitcher like Cotton is a trump card that gives the Wildcats hope they can reach the Section VI final for the seventh year in a row. Cotton, a three-time All-Western New York selection and a fifth-year starter, boasts a 71-16 won-loss record in her career with 739 strikeouts. The Niagara University commit is an astounding 51-2 in league games.

One thing that’s changed for Cotton is that she has been moved to the lead-off spot from the middle of the batting order. She has scored seven times and driven in eight runs, batting .378.

“I have to be a little more patient at the plate and not swing at the first strike I see, but it’s not bad,” Cotton said. “I’m liking it.”

Seelig likes how cleanup hitter Annie DiPirro is pounding the ball. The sophomore first baseman is batting .566 with 10 RBI, three doubles and a home run. Junior Andrea Taboni, a second baseman, remains one of the team’s most consistent players. She scored the winning run in the comeback win over Eden in sectionals.

Junior catcher Abby Tomasik is another dependable player, who bats third and has been with the Wildcats since eighth grade. Speedy senior Brooke Whalen has started in center field since her sophomore year.

Lots of winning experience for sure. Past success doesn’t guarantee more in the future, but Depew embraces the pressure associated with great expectations.

“We expect to be playing for a section title,” Seelig said. “Anything else would be disappointing.”

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