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Teams, athletes determined to focus on what they can control at states

Sometimes there's a great unknown when scholastic teams reach this point of the season.

Williamsville East, Depew and North Collins softball along with the latter's baseball team admit they do not have as detailed scouting reports on their upcoming opponents heading into their respective New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association final fours as they did on teams they defeated to reach this point of the season.

It's hard enough to scout upcoming foes in one's own backyard let alone trying to follow potential opponents down the Thruway in anticipation of lengthy playoff runs. So the Section VI champions still standing will keep things simple heading into the grab bag that is the final weekend of competition.

They will worry about what they can control – their own performances.

The busy weekend for ballplayers, track and field athletes and golfers begins Friday with the Binghamton area serving as a happening place.

The two-day state track and field championship meet begins at 11 a.m. Friday at Union Endicott as Western New York athletes look to continue the recent run of success at the event. Among the many area competitors heading to Central New York is defending state Division II 200-meter dash champion Nia Stevens of Tapestry.

North Collins baseball faces SS Seward of Section IX in a state semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Conlon Field in MacArthur Park with the winner advancing to Saturday's 1 p.m. final at Binghamton University.

The Section VI softball champions start their final four Saturday at Moreau Recreation Park in Glens Falls – with the Flames of Williamsville East getting the early wake-up call with a 9 a.m. first pitch against Section III champion Jamesville-DeWitt in Class A. North Collins plays X-Heuvelton at 11:30 a.m., with Depew meeting state No. 1 Babylon of Section XI at 1:30 p.m. in Class B. The winners play for championships later in the day.

"You're not going to get an amazing scouting report (at this point)," said Williamsville East softball coach Chris Durr, who uttered a common refrain from the coaches of each team hoping to turn championship dreams into reality. "Our focus has been to continue what we're doing well."

For all the teams, that's playing solid defense to boost solid pitching while putting the bat on the ball – from notching timely hits to crushing the ball and perhaps opponents' spirits in the process.

That's what the Flames and Wildcats did last Friday in beating their Section V foes by a combined score of 31-3. Williamsville East finished an 18-3 win over Mercy with 21 hits, while Depew had 19 in a 13-0 rout of Wayland-Cohocton.

Williamsville East (17-3) has eight players hitting .411 or better. That includes Christy Mack, who leads the Flames in homers (five) and average (.500). Rachel Steffan, who homered against Mercy, is hitting .488. Bri Bucello has a .472 average after a 4-for-6 showing in regionals.

Each team knows it'll be a bit harder to win this weekend, since in addition to the unknown there's also the pressure to succeed – regardless of how relaxed teams try to be in situations where the championship plaques are close enough to touch.

"I believe last year's experience will keep us calm," said Depew coach Dan Seelig, who has seven returning starters from that state semifinalist club. "Plus, when you have Karsen Cotton pitching, you have a very good chance of winning any game."

She does give the Wildcats a chance to do that. The senior has 845 strikeouts in her six seasons and a 60-3 league record. She has pitched in countless big postseason games, including last Friday's one-hitter against Wayland-Cohocton, where she struck out nine – including seven of first 10 batters to set the tone. Cotton (.390) and Annie DiPirro (.492) lead an offense that's found its groove during the playoffs. Jordyn Petyk, Andrea Taboni and Alyssa Nichy are among the other impact players for Depew (17-5).

Reaching this point has led to lots of excitement at each of the schools, especially North Collins, since both baseball (14-5) and softball (17-5) are first-time state final four participants.

"I haven't stopped smiling since Saturday," said longtime Eagles softball coach Jan Warren. "It's awesome. They had a parade for both teams. To see the people in the community come out and support us feels good."

"We're both riding the wave," added baseball coach Paul Kellner. "It's kind of exciting. The big difference between the two teams is we're pretty senior laden and they're pretty young."

NC softball's defense can get after it as it has speed in the outfield and sure-handed infielders surrounding pitcher Rebecca Cyrek (.451 average, 25 RBIs), who has yielded just three runs in four playoff games. Batterymate Rebecca Holmes is 8 for 11 in the postseason with four doubles and five RBIs. Sophomore shortstop Emily Winter hasn't committed an error.

The list goes on and on for Warren's crew. Though North Collins is in Erie County, it plays other tough Class D competition in the CCAA. Warren believes his team is well-prepared for Saturday, based on the quality pitching it's faced all season.

"It's not like we're playing slouches," Warren said. "They're being selective at the plate, looking for good pitches and when the pitcher throws them they hit it."

North Collins baseball has several solid pitchers – always key – led by Trevor Mercado. Brandon Zielniski leads the team in saves, starts at shortstop when he's not on the bump and leads NC in hitting (.486 average), extra-base hits, RBI and slugging percentage).

"Our motto is to focus on our play," Kellner said. "We know if we pitch well, we play defense and put the bat on the ball we can compete with anybody."

Meanwhile, the boys Federation golf tournament starts June 11 at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island.

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