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Williamsville East's baseball season on road to achieving 'Four Fingers' goal

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Will East baseball  Hickey

Williamsville East's Owen Valley (11) hits a fly ball against Williamsville North in the bottom of the second inning of a game at Williamsville East High School.

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In the first game of a home-and-home series, Williamsville East trailed 2-0 entering the sixth inning against Williamsville North, but that didn’t worry the Flames. They had been down before and were confident they could complete another comeback.

“Even when we’re down, we know we’re going to win,” junior Cooper Rossano said.

In the dugout, Rossano started yelling, “Who’s here?” 

“Mr. Mo’s here,” his teammates responded in unison.

"Mr. Mo" is short for momentum. The chant is a reminder that the Flames need to pick up their play and get the momentum back on their side.

The Flames ended up scoring five runs to win 5-2 on Wednesday and improve their record to 15-0.

“We knew we weren’t going to lose,” Rossano said.

While the winning streak ended with a 2-0 loss to Williamsville North in the second game of the home-and-home Thursday, the Flames remain focused on winning when it matters most and achieving their goal of "Four Fingers."

No. 1: Win the league; they are currently first in ECIC II at 10-0.

No. 2: Repeat as Section VI Class A1 champions. The Section VI seeding meeting is May 21.

No. 3: Win the Class A overall title.

No. 4: Reach the Class A state tournament. 

After the win Wednesday, the team celebrated by going to Moe’s Southwest Grill and Dairy Queen. Going out to eat has become customary for the players, as it serves as an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, discuss the game and, more importantly, just enjoy life as high schoolers.

“This is a great group of kids,” coach Chris Gruarin said. "They’re raised from great families that are super supportive. Every guy on our team has embraced their role. They’re quality kids, learning life lessons along the way.”

On the road to their goals, many of their players have taken on starring roles. 

Rossano has 28 hits and leads the team in singles (19) and runs batted in (27).

“What a kid that kid is,” Gruarin said. “He’s special. I love being around that kid every day."

"Being a sophomore last year and just making an unbelievable contribution to the program, stepping right in and being one of our dudes from the beginning. He’s another one that just wants to get better. He’s one of the best players in Western New York and has a bright future.”

Senior and Binghamton University signee Mike Stellrecht has also had a strong season, leading the team in hits (32) and home runs (4). Gruarin calls Rossano and Stellrecht "two of the coolest kids I've ever coached." 

"The way he approaches his work is high level," Gruarin said of Stellrecht. "He continuously works … I can’t say enough about that kid. I really believe he’s one of the best players around.”

Senior Owen Valley leads in doubles (10), and is third in hits (26) and RBIs (19). Senior and Niagara University commit Nate Milk, a coaches All-Western New York honorable mention selection last spring, is first on the team in walks (14) and triples (3), second in runs (31), and fourth in hits (14).

On the mound, senior Bobby Miller has led the the team in innings pitched with 26.1. He leads the team in strikeouts with 29 and has an ERA of 3.45. Sharing pitching duties with Miller is junior Andrew Zdrojewski, with 18.1 innings and an ERA of 3.05.

The Flames remain hot, despite losing the All-Western New York Player of the Year in Joe Mack. They are without a Mack in the lineup for the first time in almost a decade. First was Charlie, 22, a Minnesota Twins sixth-round pick in 2018 who’s playing for their High-A affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then it was Joe, 19, a first-round draft pick in the 2021 draft by the Miami Marlins. He is on their rookie-level team.

“They just left a footprint on the program in general,” Gruarin said of the Macks. “Everybody says the Macks were one of their best teammates in program history. They approached their day and the kids saw that. Those kids saw how they approached their business and work … their legacy will live on forever in this program.”

The team is continuing what the Macks were part of, and that's winning.

Gruarin won 19 games in his first season as coach in 2021 after succeeding Jerry Gasz, Western New York's winningest high school baseball coach (731 victories). The Flames also finished first in the Class A state rankings by MaxPreps. 

“These kids, they buy into it,” Gruarin said, “being productive in practice. And our mentality is: ‘Take it one day at a time.’ Every day, every practice and every game, there’s a message. There’s something to progress in. We always talk about the good, the bad and how we can get better. We build off that day-to-day. Just an awesome group of kids that play the game so hard.”

Part of their success is taking the game seriously, but not too seriously. It is enjoying the moments, including the blaring of Endor’s “Pump it up” in the back of the bus or during the fifth inning of each game or grabbing some Tim Hortons after a game.

“The camaraderie on the team is great,” Stellrecht said. “There’s no problems between the players. Everybody roots for each other.

"Nobody has anything against other people. Being able to be friends with these guys on and off the field just builds the relationships even more.”

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Sports Reporter

Born and raised in Boston, MA. My experience includes The Boston Globe, The Arizona Republic, The Athletic, The Tennessean, Bleacher Report and NBC Sports Northwest. Open to suggestions and connections: Cmurray@buffnews.com

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