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High School Softball: North Collins repeats as division champs

Beth Kibler was one of several returning players on a young North Collins team that won consecutive CCAA IV titles. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)
A number of sophomore starters have answered the bell to keep North Collins a division champion. If that continues, the Eagles could also have a repeat as a Class D finalist in their future.

Four sophomore starters, along with the leadership and contributions of a pair of seniors and three juniors, have North Collins approaching the Class D playoffs as second seeds after another CCAA Division IV regular season title.

Last year, North Collins made its first trip to the Section VI finals, where it lost a tight game to Forestville. Coming off that season, minus several key starters, the Eagles put up an 11-1 mark in division play, falling only to Brocton 4-0 but a few days later avenging that loss 15-5.

“I never expected these girls to do what they did,” said North Collins head coach Jan Warren, whose team starts the playoffs hosting a quarterfinal May 24. “The sophomores really came through. It was a fun year, and it’s not over yet. They’re all really focused for the playoffs.”

Even a talented group that’s young many times still needs its senior leaders and North Collins has had that in lone starting upperclassmen Jessica Lawton and Christine Blidy, a solid center fielder and hitter.

Lawton’s been consistent in the circle as well as at the plate where she is second on the team in average and has come through with some big hits. When Lawton is striking out more batters than she’s walking, which is the norm in most games, North Collins is winning games.

“This means everything to her,” Warren said. “She’s gotten red patches (for second place) in other sports, but she’s said this time she’d like to get a blue patch. She’ll make every effort she can to get that done. I’m very pleased with her attitude.”

Among the juniors, Beth Kibler has become very tough to run on as a second-year starting catcher, Nicole Torrey has made a smooth transition from second to third base and is reliable at the plate and Kylie Mathis has put the ball in play and brought a good glove to left field.

Three of those sophomores jumped right in to start in the infield. First baseman Arrika Bley has brought added power to the lineup; Sam Gier is hitting well and has helped on the mound along with adjusting to playing everyday at second; and Jenna Keppel has taken over at shortstop, improving throughout the season.

Also stepping into the lineup has been junior varsity call-up Emily Violanti, who received an opportunity due to an injury and quickly took the reins in left field. She also won a game for North Collins with her bat, hitting a seventh-inning, three-run homer in an 18-17 win over Gowanda early in the season.

Seniors Veronica Richardson, who’s played in a utility role, and Ashley Trainor, have also contributed.

If there’s been any struggle for North Collins it’s been in the defensive play, especially with such a young infield. Warren is hoping the defense can step up and not let one error turn into multiple mistakes, especially with Lawton being a pitcher who throws to contact.

In a non-league 12-0 loss to Forestville, which was a rematch of last season’s Class D final, the Eagles committed 10 errors and at the plate, notched nine hits but could not string enough together in timely fashion.

“We only gave up two earned runs in that game,” Warren said. ‘The ball is usually put into play, so we have to play good defense. When we play good defense, we usually win. They can’t get frazzled, they need to stay on point. We can play with anyone and have a good chance to get back to the finals if we can do that.”

In a late-season 17-0 win over West Valley, Torrey notched three RBI, Bley, an RBI-double, and run-scoring hits also came from Lawton, Violanti and Keppel. Richardson scored twice in the win. Lawton threw six scoreless innings, walking one, striking out four and allowing only one hit.

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