Cleveland Hill\'s Haille James takes a swing for the ECIC team at the second annual Underclassmen Softball Showcase. (Photo by Dave DeLuca)
Two outs remained in the top of the ninth inning when Cleveland Hill’s Haille James stepped up to the plate to give her all-star team one more chance at the showcase crown.
Her Erie County Interscholastic Conference all-stars had erased a six-run deficit to close in 7-4 on the Niagara Frontier League/Niagara Orleans club.
James had runners on first and second base when she hit a timely one-run double to move her ECIC club within two runs.
The game would end 7-5 with a runner on third and James stranded at second as the tying run, but her bat nearly sparked a two-out rally in Sunday’s championship game of the second annual Underclassmen Softball Showcase at North Collins High School sports complex.
“I was kind of nervous just to be in that spot because I haven’t been hitting my best lately, but I had confidence in myself that something good was bound to happen and it did,” said James, an ECIC IV First Teamer who will be swimming as a junior this fall.
Defeating the Chautauqua Cattaraugus Athletic Association 13-3 in the semifinals, James’ performance was just one of many that stood out from the five local participants who practically carried the ECIC all-stars in both games.
West Seneca East’s Rachel Funk was the runner who was stranded at third at the end of the title game. She had a game-high three hits, including a single in the ninth that eventually put her into scoring position.
“I was really nervous,” said Funk, who also had an RBI and scored a run in the title game. “It was my first time playing for something like that.”
Switching between third base and catcher, Funk caught the final three innings of both games on Sunday, picking off a CCAA runner at third in the semis. More plays like that and she won’t be nervous about playing with the best softball players in the area anymore.
“I was excited because I got to play with girls I’ve never played with before,” said the ECIC Second Teamer who will be a sophomore this fall.
Coaching Funk as part of ECIC’s staff was her head coach at East, Rich Mattison. She also played side-by-side with fellow Lady Trojan Brittany Schuster, whose RBI-double in the eighth inning of the finale put ECIC within three.
Schuster also made her mark in the semifinal, adding another hit and RBI while scoring a run.
“Knowing that I did so well in the all-star games makes me happy,” said the ECIC II First Teamer, who will begin her junior year playing volleyball at East. “I feel accomplished knowing that all the hard work I put in really did pay off.”
Accompanying Schuster on the ECIC all-stars were a couple of her travel teammates from Team Nike.
Emily Maziarz caught the first three innings of both contests on Sunday. The all-state sophomore catcher from Cleveland Hill and Team Nike had two hits, two runs, drove in another score and worked a walk — all in the first game.
Also a part of Team Nike is Dani Szymkowiak, who represented Cheektowaga as an ECIC III First Team all-star in her junior season at shortstop.
Szymkowiak made the most out of her only two appearances at the plate, going 2-for-2 with two RBI to go along with two stolen bases while only playing in the first game.
James also carried ECIC in the first game, as well. She gathered a game-high three hits while scoring two runs, stealing home plate in the process.
Cheektowaga’s Vickie Smith was the sixth local softball player selected to the all-star game, but she did not participate. The sophomore second baseman made the ECIC III First Team last spring.