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Western New York Baseball/Softball Showcase: Event gives diamond stars opportunity to showcase skills

Showcase coordinator Rob Catalino addresses softball players during Tuesday’s (Aug. 7) skills exhibition at North Collins for softball players participating in the new event for underclassmen baseball and softball players in the Buffalo-area. The baseball players take their turn Thursday, Aug. 9 before the all-star games are played Saturday, Aug. 11 at North Collins. (Photo by Michael J. Petro)
Underclassmen to play Saturday at North Collins H.S.

Rob Catalino wants Western New York baseball and softball players to receive the same opportunity he did to play at the college level.

For that to be possible, he believes local players would first need more opportunity to be seen. While the Buffalo-area may not exactly be a hotbed for the sports, Catalino is sure there is plenty of college level talent here. He’s now doing all he can to make sure others know it, as well.

After months of planning with the help of some loyal friends, sponsors and those who support local athletics, Catalino’s vision for a baseball and softball showcase for underclassmen will come to fruition this week.

After practice sessions for softball on Tuesday (Aug. 7) and baseball on Thursday (Aug. (9) — which will be geared toward viewing for college coaches and scouts, the inaugural Western New York Baseball and Softball Showcase for underclassmen will wrap up with all-star games on Saturday, Aug. 11.

The baseball game will be played at 3 p.m. and the softball at 6 p.m. All of the activities related to the showcase will take place at the turf field complex of North Collins Junior/Senior High School.

The event will showcase 70 players (35 from each sport) with a wide variety of high schools represented from the Niagara-Frontier region through Buffalo and its suburbs and all the way down to the Southern Tier. There is even a player each from the Warsaw and Binghamton areas that will participate in the baseball activities.

“I just don’t think our kids get enough opportunity to play in college,” said Catalino, who played baseball at St. Bonaventure and coached at Hilbert after starring at Lake Shore High School. “Most of our kids don’t even get looks. By getting the kids an opportunity like this, it will get their foot in the door.”

Catalino hopes the event will at least get many of the players some contacts at potential colleges and give them a direction in which to head. He’s expecting about 15 to 20 colleges, at varying levels (junior college to Division I), to be represented at the showcase. He organized the day of drills and skills for each sports’ participants in attempt to streamline the process for potential college suitors.

“Coaches can see the players and now when they see their name in the box score during the season, they’ll know exactly who they are,” said Dan Gerken, Lake Shore’s varsity basketball coach and a friend of Catalino, who’s been a big help with organizing the event. “There’s little opportunity to showcase the players in baseball. After the season is the only time. This will give underclassmen the chance to get their name out there. Otherwise, they may not ever get that chance.”

Gerken said Catalino had the idea of creating an event which followed the format of the Basketball Coaches of New York high school showcase in the fall. That event features more than 70 players and is played at St. Mary’s. Gerken has assisted in the organization of that event, as well.

These type of showcases are also quite successful in indicating to players at what college level their talents would best fit, according to Gerken. He said young athletes don’t always understand that when going into the process of picking a college.

“The showcase has been successful for the BCNY, and Rob wanted to put one together that was similar,” Gerken said. “I give him credit for taking on a lot of work. A lot of people talk about doing something like this but actually doing it is different.”

Catalino also had the idea of putting together a program with each player’s biography, which will be sold during the games for $2. It will serve as a keep sake for players and their families and friends and an informational guide for potential colleges. In order to raise money for future scholarships, there will also be a Chinese auction and basket raffle at the games.

He also added legitimacy to the event by having the two sides in the baseball game coached by a pair of Western New York baseball icons in Bob Barrows, who heads the Orchard Park program, and Bob Burnside, who assists at Eden. On the girls diamond, there will be a tribute to coaching legend Gerry Gentner of Williamsville South, who lost his courageous battle with cancer earlier in the year.

Also coaching in the baseball game will be Paul Kellner of North Collins, Chris Smith of Gowanda, Vince Gullo of Fredonia and Paul Nasca of St. Joe’s, while on the softball side, Jan Warren of North Collins and Ray Hennessy of Immaculata will head the two sides and Vince Fininzio and Joe Catalano will assist.

Among an elite group of players, the baseball game will feature three 2012 All-Western New York First Team selections in Christ Conley of Lake Shore, Jared Baldinelli of St. Joe’s and Trent Thompson of Fredonia, along with Second Team honoree Matt Matre of St. Joe’s.

The softball game will feature two All-Western New York First Team selections in Rachel Ziarnowski of Holy Angels and Khee Nance of Dunkirk, All-WNY Large School selections and Shelby Donhauserin of Kenmore West and Kayla Hahn of Hutch-Tech, in addition to two players from state-champion Clarence and a combined four from Section VI champions Hamburg and Cleveland Hill.

All four rosters for the event are also stacked with divisional all-stars.

The three-year-old renovated athletics facility at North Collins will also be on display. Catalino, who coaches soccer, basketball and baseball at North Collins, thanked the district’s superintendent Ben Halsey for allowing the event to be played on the school’s dual baseball and softball fields.

While he’s happy with the response in the event’s inaugural season, Catalino hopes that the event will only take off from here. He wants more high school teams and coaches to be aware of it and for it to become something that players aspire to take part in.

Catalino expects next year to run much smoother with the process of organizing the event beginning a few months earlier and the all-star teams being picked by May.

He’s expecting about 1,000 spectators for the event, which is being sponsored by The Sun and Metro Source, newspapers of Metro Group Inc., along with Ad Pro and New Era. The event is free to the public and Catalino hopes priceless to local players.

“It’s been a lot of work but I think it will be worth it,” Catalino said. “If I can get just one kid an opportunity to play at the next level, it was certainly worth the effort.”

Organizers are still accepting gift baskets to raffle off. For information, call Catalino at 432-8458.

Baseball Game Rosters

White Team — Team Burnside
#  Name                          School
1  Bradley Palmerton         Eden
2  Dane Cala                     Lake Shore
3  Jared Baldinelli              St. Joe’s
4  Ryan Boutelle                Gowanda
5  Brandon Jewett              Frontier
6  Evan Johnston               Frontier
7  Thomas Raiport             Pine Valley
8  Tyler Shaw                    Hamburg
9  Drew Scharra                Springville
10  Billy Dickenson            Springville
11  David Baskerville         Eden
13  Tyler Freeman             Lake Shore
14  Matt Brzozowiec          Lake Shore
15  Drew Borowski            Warsaw
16  Jared Keppel               North Collins
17  Alex Kovacs                St. Joe’s
22  Christ Conley              Lake Shore
24  Donny Kilian               St. Joe’s

Blue Team — Team Barrows
#  Name                       School
1  Bubba Hollins             Orchard Park
2  Nick Hart                   Fredonia
3  Adam Cartenutoi        JFK
4  Eric Cartenuto           JFK
5  Jake Kopacz              St. Joe’s
6  Adam Pleva               Forestville
7  Brian Ratajczak         Newfane
8  Coyote Sokoloski        Iroquios
9  Randy Szymkowiak     Cheektowaga
10  Philip Wells               St. Joe’s
11  Reston Pettit            Bolivar-Richburg
12  Jon McCarthy            Orchard Park
13  Trent Thompson        Fredonia
14  JD Andresseen          St. Mary’s
15  Michael Prentice        St. Francis
24  Chris Saden              Fredonia
25  Matt Matre               St. Joe’s

Softball Game Rosters

White Team — Team Warren
#  Name                     School
1  Jessica Lawton         North Collins
2  Christine Blidy         North Collins
3  Khee Nance             Dunkirk
4  Laura Crooks           Niag-Wheatfield
5  Kati Hanlon             Dunkirk
6  Emily Maziarz          Cleveland Hill
7  Madalyn Hillery        West Seneca East
8  Jessica Ackley          Lake Shore
9  Sarah Mertowski      Hamburg
10  Hayley Hammer     Lake Shore
11  Kailee Ramaekers   Hamburg
12  Charlotte Miller       Kenmore West
13  Shelby Donnhauser  Kenmore West
14  Darian Evans           Lake Shore
15  Katie Milone            Clarence
15  Danielle Szymkowiak Cheektowaga
16  Moriah Harris           Clarence
17  Allison Salerno         Hamburg
18  Alicia Deering           Fredonia

Blue Team — Team Hennessey
#  Name                     School
1  Maria Gabriele         Sacred Heart
2  Molly Hennessy        Immaculata
3  Breanna Opera        Lancaster
4  Emily Martin            Will. South
5  Stephanie Bielec       Niagara Falls
6  Tori Polk                   Niagara Falls
7  Rachel Johnson         Orchard Park
11  Jessica Putcher        Brocton
12  Rachel Ziarnowski    Holy Angels
13  Theresa Fleckenstein Lewiston-Porter
14  Laura Krawczyk        West Seneca West
16  Melissa Magiera        Will. South
18  Nicole Sorrentino       Lackawanna
19  Alexa Farner             Gowanda
22  Jerri Ann Orfano        Niagara Falls
—  Lacy Clark                 Dunkirk
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