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Pomp and circumstance: St. Mary's marches to Monsignor Martin softball championship

Championship afternoon and commencement night almost clashed like the combatants in Wednesday's Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association softball final.

In fact there were seniors from both St. Mary's of Lancaster and Mount Mercy who left the unusually long final early to make sure they didn't miss their respective graduation ceremonies.

Erin Hufford wasn't one of them.

There's no way the Lancers senior, the Canisius College commit and Monsignor Martin Player of the Year was going to leave before helping her team experience one more crowning moment at Sunshine Park in West Seneca.

St. Mary's secured the final out of the winner-take-all game between regular-season co-champions about an hour before its graduation. The Lancers rode a big third inning and a gargantuan seventh to capture their second postseason title in three years by defeating the Magic, 14-7.

The contest took nearly 2.5 hours to complete – roughly an hour longer than most standard seven-inning championship softball games.

The Lancers (14-4) played a big role in the game's length by collectively proving to be tough outs before an estimated 300 on a nice, warm day. St. Mary's finished with 12 hits – including seven during a nine-run seventh inning – and drew seven walks to earn a spot in Tuesday's New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association final four at Moore Catholic and Wagner College on Staten Island.

"I'd rather be in a uniform than a graduation gown," said Hufford, who drove in three runs with a bases-clearing double during the seventh inning. "To be able to win this again means the world to me, especially this being my senior year. It is absolutely amazing being a part of a team to go to states two times."

Every Lancer had a hand in this victory, from the team's four freshmen starters to senior class salutatorian Victoria Jankowski, who pinch ran before scooting to graduation.

St. Mary's rebounded from a 1-0 deficit by erupting for four runs in the third inning. Three of them came off the bat of freshman Ava Miller, who crushed a high fastball over the fence in left center to give St. Mary's the lead for keeps. Earlier in the inning, classmate Riley Malicki's fielder's choice grounder plated Sarah Hapeman from third as Hapeman beat the throw home on the play.

Miller also singled twice and drove in two runs during the seventh-inning uprising in which St. Mary's extended its 5-2 lead by sending 14 batters to the plate. But Miller's third-inning homer enabled the Lancers to settle into a comfort zone.

"I think it changed the momentum definitely," said Miller, who finished 4 for 5 with five RBIs and two runs scored. "Our heads got in the game and we were pumped up."

Freshman Maggie Kellner went 2 for 2 with two walks and three runs scored. Malicki drove in a run, scored three runs and led off the seventh with a single. Classmate Hannah Kwasniewski went 3 for 5 with two runs and an RBI.

"Four freshmen who are ridiculously talented," St. Mary's coach Kevin Hufford said. "Watch what they do in the next three years."

Hufford's daughter Erin, a holdover from the Lancers' last championship outfit, finished 1 for 4 and came on in relief of winning pitcher Mackenzie Suto (nine strikeouts) with one out in the seventh to preserve the victory.

St. Mary's coach Kevin Hufford embraces his daughter Erin after the Lancers' victory. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Emily Lewandowski went 2 for 4 with a homer and two runs scored for Mount Mercy (8-3).

"They came out a little tougher and jumped on us quick," Magic junior Laura Gregory said. "You get up on a team it's hard to come back. … We had a good season. … I'm proud to be part of the team."

The championship caps a great five-day stretch for Erin Hufford.

She qualified for the state Catholic track and field championships over the weekend in three events for the Lancers.

"It's definitely been a good week and it's definitely ending on high notes," she said.

St. Mary's celebrates following its victory over Mount Mercy in the Monsignor Martin softball championship game. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

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