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ECIC softball outlook: Unbeaten rivals collide when Lancaster faces defending champion OP

The coaches' poll lists unbeaten Lancaster as No. 1 among large schools in softball. If the No. 2 team wanted to take exception to that, it'd be understandable.

Unbeaten Orchard Park is the two-time defending Section VI Class AA champion, reaching the state final each of the past two seasons and winning the championship in 2015. The Quakers also have several key players back in the fold too.

It should make for an interesting three days as the ECIC I rivals, weather permitting, are schedule to face each other twice in a three-day stretch beginning Wednesday at 5 p.m. tentatively at Orchard Park. The Quakers' new field isn't quite ready yet so the game will either be played at Lancaster or  perhaps at Sunshine Park in West Seneca. School officials will make the call on the location Wednesday. The rematch is Friday in Lancaster.

The Legends (10-0) received three more first-place votes in the latest poll that OP (8-0), who are ranked one spot ahead of Lancaster at No. 5 in the state Class AA poll.

"These two games should be a battle," said coach Kelly Ambrose, whose Legends split with the Quakers last year. "OP has many great players on their roster and is well-coached, and every single pitch is a challenge against such a talented team. Considering they've been to states the past two seasons, we know we have to have no flaws in our game to measure up to them. It should be two great softball games. That high level of competition is something players and coaches always look forward to."

"It should be a very good game," OP coach Brittany Schermerhorn said. "The girls are excited. We're looking forward to it."

There won't be any talent shortages when these two hit the field.

Lancaster's top returnee is reigning Prep Talk Softball Player of the Year Kara Paradowski. The All-Western New York shortstop hit .398 and is committed to Canisius College. Junior pitcher Jenna Patterson has verbally committed to Niagara. Third baseman Tina Stasiuk made just one error last year and hit .396.

Orchard Park has an All-WNY returnee of its own in junior first baseman/catcher Madison Stewart. The St. Bonaventure commit hit .505 with 34 runs scored and 26 RBIs last year. Another dangerous hitter in the Quakers lineup is senior designated player Alex Sheehy, who belted five homers and hit .417 last year. Penny Leonard hit .443 last year, while junior Lilly Wosniak stole 13 bases and has verbally committed to Canisius. Junior catcher Kayla Raymond is a Niagara commit.

Lancaster may be ranked first in Western New York but is approaching this one knowing it will have to play flawless on defense to have a chance at a victory. OP is still the hunted considering the championship hardware it's collected the past two seasons.

"With OP's talent level, we can't lean on one or two players to carry us," Ambrose said. "We need our entire lineup to play excellent defense and contribute offensively."

Defending Class A champions: West Seneca East looks to build on a championship season with a key piece back in the fold in All-WNY pitcher Anilese Kelly, who struck out 132 in 113 innings, limted foes to a .163 average and hit .430 with 12 doubles last year. Others who hope to lead the Trojans on another extended run include Samantha Kmotiek, who drove in the winning run in a recent win over fellow Class A-1 contender Williamsville East. Kassandra Vogel, Hailey Maddex and Savanah Murray area team captains and the only seniors on the Trojans.

Around ECIC

Lancaster and OP may be ranked 1-2 in the poll, but they're hardly the only ECIC I teams with a chance at contending during the postseason. Clarence and Williamsville North also are ranked among the Top 10 large schools with Clarence (5-3) at No. 4 after what could be described as a tough week. The 5-3 Red Devils dropped close decisions to both Lancaster and OP with a weather-shortened loss in five innings to Frontier in the middle.

They have some seniors who hope to lead them on a postseason run with third-year starter Emily Schmitt back on the mound. She led the team in triples and hits last season with a .453 average. Pitcher Hannah Marlowe led Clarence in homers in 2016 and is an outstanding close at first too.

-- Williamsville North, under the direction of first-year coach Michelle Switzer, are led by Canisius College commit Emily Nicosia, a senior pitcher. Miranda Fish scored a team-high 26 runs last year.

-- Frontier is 5-2 in league with seniors Amanda Russo, Kayla Gawlak and Brooke Lakso leading the charge. Third-year starting shortstop Cami Duggan is one of the Falcons' leaders on offense and defense. Frontier owns two wins over ranked-area teams, including Will North.

-- Hamburg will be in Class A-1 for the playoffs but will tune up for the postseason as members of mostly Class AA ECIC I. Junior catcher Heather Haberman was an All-WNY pick last year after batting .516 with six home runs and 24 RBI. Senior Maggie Vesneske is at shortstop.

-- Williamsville East has a returning All-WNY and a couple others who can flat out hit. Sophomore Christy Mack is the returning All-WNY pick as the fourth-year starter looks to improve on last season's batting totals (.444 average, .778 slugging percentage). Rachel Steffan, a sophomore second baseman, is coming off a season in which she hit .452.

-- Lake Shore has won three straight to improve to 5-5. Key players include catcher Jordan Scholl (.536 average, 30 hits last year) and Alexa Haberer (1.87 ERA, 89 K's in 2016).

-- Defending Class C champion Cleveland Hill is off to a 5-1 start with the lone defeat coming against Eden. Junior Taylor Betz returns after a season in which she hit .507. She is just one of two Golden Eagles to ever pitch a perfect game. Senior third-year starting catcher Emily McIntosh also returns for Cleve Hill as does classmate and fourth-year starting third baseman Kathryn Skorka.

-- Third baseman Paiton Basinski and pitcher/first baseman Mattie Woodard return to lead perennial Class B title contender Eden, which is ranked second among small schools. Woodard bats leadoff, while Basinski is No. 3 in the order. One of two players remaining from the 2014 state championship-winning team is starting shortstop Molly Breier – who helped volleyball win six state titles during her scholastic career. Outfielder Bridget Bender is the other holdover from 2014. Eighth-grader Marissa Calloway returns, shifting from No. 5 in the order to cleanup, where she's belted two homers.

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