Softball’s success leads to Team of the Year honors
Clarence’s hard work, perseverance and desire culminated in its first state championship in five tries via the Lady Red Devils’ 3-1 win over Section III’s Cicero-North Syracuse — a team that beat Clarence in the 2004 state championship game, 1-0, on a passed ball.
“This was a year where everything went the way we needed it to go to win a state championship,” said head coach Todd Banaszak, a former Clarence Bee Coach of the Year. “Dreams do come true. You need the breaks, the talent, the commitment and the dedication, and we had it all. We had a lot of high-quality character and positive swagger on the team.”
It’s pretty easy to have some swagger when you put together a 23-1 record, though that’s not to say that Clarence wasn’t tested over the course of its run to the state championship. Even an extra-innings victory over league foe West Seneca West in the season opener provided motivation for the Lady Red Devils’ postseason push.
“Beating West in extra innings right off the bat, I think it woke us up and made us tell ourselves that we’ve got to work hard no matter who we’re playing,” Banaszak said. “But, we really did have the perfect storm this year. We were more senior heavy than we’ve been in the past, and from that we received a lot of good senior leadership. We had a lot of returning starters back in their spots — only left fielder Jill Horvath was a first-time starter — and this was probably the most competitive group we’ve ever had. They had their goal set of winning a state title, and they never lost sight of that.”
Among those six seniors Banaszak referred to are two of the team’s three All-State All-stars: pitcher Katie Bull and center fielder Tori Nappo. Bull, a Third Team Class AA All-State and First Team All-WNY All-star, posted a 2.42 ERA and a 21-1 record in guiding Clarence’s efforts on the defensive side of the ball. Nappo, meanwhile, led the team with 38 RBIs and hit a home run in all six of Clarence’s playoff games — including the homer in the state championship game that Banaszak said at the time “sparked us to win the final” — en route to earning First Team All-State and All-WNY All-star honors. Nappo finished the year with 45 hits, 37 runs scored and a .506 batting average.
Both players were also First Team selections to the inaugural All-Bee Softball Team at their respective positions.
Junior catcher Alyssa Dewes was also a First Team All-State and All-WNY All-star this season after setting single-season records for hits (52), batting average (.553), doubles (11), home runs (10) and runs scored (42). Dewes, who has already committed verbally to continue her playing career at Syracuse University, was also a First Team All-Bee pick.
Other players who were instrumental to the team’s success this season included First Team All-Bee selections and seniors Mo Rogers at second base (.402 average, .655 slugging percentage, 22 RBIs, 30 runs scored, 35 hits, .980 fielding percentage), Ally Gay at right field (.333 average, 27 hits, six doubles, 23 runs scored) and Horvath at left field (.458 average, 38 hits, 26 RBIs, 26 runs scored).
Rounding out the team and playing important roles every day and every game were seniors Lauren Muni (first base) and Alicia Dolata (outfield), juniors Abby Brauer (outfield), Katie Milone (shortstop), Sarah Quinn (first base/outfield), and Kaycee Fracasso (outfield/shortstop), and sophomores Shelby Dolan (catcher) and Katrina Buczkowski (pitcher).
“These girls were the ultimate competitors,” Banaszak said. “I’ve never had a group of players who were as competitive and determined as these 15 were. They all got along well and picked each other up when they needed to. It never felt like they couldn’t win.”
“These kids always made the correct decisions on and off the field,” Banaszak added. “We had six girls go to the senior prom the night before the state semifinal, and they made sure they left in time to make the drive and get a few hours of sleep before we played that morning. They just refused to create a lot of extra distractions, but they didn’t let that take away from the fun they had.”
Of course, part of the team’s success comes down to coaching, and Clarence lucked out by having not only Banaszak to guide his players, but assistant coaches Kelly Rusin and Megan McDonnell as well. The trio recently learned that they had been named the National Fastpitch Coaches Association East Region Coaching Staff of the Year, which puts them in the running for National Coaching Staff of the Year against the four other regional winners.
“When you sign up to be a high school coach, it’s not to win a state championship; having a group of kids like this, that’s the ultimate,” Banaszak said after winning the title. “But, winning a state title is amazing, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of assistant coaches Kelly Rusin and Meagan McDonnell.”
Despite the departure of many key components to this year’s championship squad, Banaszak is hoping that players next year and beyond look to the 2012 Lady Red Devils and aspire to experience what it is to be a state champion themselves.
“We had it all this year, with great character, great chemistry and great skill players, and there’s just nothing compared to winning a state title,” Banaszak said. “A big part of our success this year was having fun, and we had a lot of fun as coaches too. I want this to happen again; I want other kids to strive to win a state championship.”