Four programs represented on First Team
The girls have been around long enough to understand what it takes to not only be a great softball player, but also lead and lift up others. The six girls come from four schools, all of which had good to great seasons on the softball field this year.
Mack didn’t post the dominant offensive numbers that she did in previous seasons, but she was still a key contributor for the Williamsville East softball team this season.
Mack hit .279 with a .329 on-base percentage and a .603 slugging. She hit four home runs, racked up 18 RBIs, smacked eight doubles and scored 21 runs. Since Mack is a five-year starter and a reigning All-Western New York and All-Bee selection, opposing pitchers shied away from giving her anything to hit.
“Even though she didn’t have the year that I’m sure she wanted to at the plate as far as average, she does lead the team in home runs and had a good slugging percentage,” Williamsville East coach Chris Durr said. “I just think a lot of teams saw what she did last year when she was All-Western New York and All-Bee, and decided to pitch around her as possible so that she couldn’t do damage.
“She was also a little snakebit here and there. She would make contact with the ball and it would be right at somebody. Even though her average wasn’t where we wanted it to be, she was still a big contributor for us.”
Mack’s power numbers were especially impressive. She led the team in home runs and was among the leaders in RBIs and slugging percentage.
“She’s always been a really good power hitter,” Durr said. “In her at-bats, she didn’t see a lot of good pitches to hit. You can get a little anxious about it and start to swing at some bad pitches. But overall, she was a key contributor and one of our most important players.”
Mack has started at shortstop since she was in seventh grade. She played every inning of every game this year and committed only four errors. She has a diverse set of skills that allow her to succeed in the field.
“She’s been a special player since she’s been in seventh grade with us,” Durr said. “She’s going to be one of those six-year players that most coaches don’t get a chance to work with. She’s an outstanding fielder. She’s got great range to both her backhand side and the other side. She’s got a very strong arm; she’s very smooth as a fielder in her throws to first.”
Mack is verbally committed to play at Hartford College.
Rachel Steffan, Infield
Steffan was a key contributor to the Section VI Class A1 Champion Lady Flames’ softball team. She was a monster at the plate, batting .385, slugging .615 and posting an on-base percentage of .474. She had 11 walks, five doubles and 21 runs. Perhaps most impressively, she struck out just three times in the regular season.
“I think through the season she batted over .400 but dropped below that in the playoff games we played,” Durr said. “But we played against some really good pitchers. She only struck out three times in the regular season. Then she still only had seven if you include playoffs. She’s a really good contact hitter, always puts the ball in play. She can hit for power; she led the team in RBIs. She was just a real good lefty contact hitter for us.”
Steffan was also impressive in the field. She played second base for her first two years but played first base this season. She had no trouble in the transition, going the whole season without committing an error.
“In the field, it was an easy transition for us,” Durr said. “She played second for the first two years for us, but this year she played first when Summer Clark pitched. It was a good year for her at first base. She made it easy, she’s very coachable. I don’t think she even committed an error at first base all year.”
Steffan was verbally committed to Fordham, but re-opened her search after the Rams lost their coach to Villanova.
Madisyn Pepke –
Pepke was a nightmare for opposing pitchers to face this year. The Lancaster senior hit from the leadoff position and posted impressive numbers this season.
She batted .508 with two doubles, a triple, five stolen bases, 12 RBIs and 19 runs. Perhaps most impressive of all, she struck out just three times in 65 at-bats. Her versatility and intelligence were the keys to her production.
“I think she is really smart at the plate,” Lancaster coach Kelly Ambrose said. “She sees what the defense is giving her and decides if she’s going to bunt or if she sees an opening in the defense. She does have some power when she slaps the ball, which is how she got those doubles and triples. She has a lot of tools on offense; she only struck out three times all year. Her leading off games like that was huge for us. She put the opposing pitcher in a tough spot right from the get-go.”
In addition to being a great hitter, Pepke was also a key player in the outfield. She played flawlessly from the center-field position, going the whole season without making an error.
“Her offense was great, but her defense is what we couldn’t have lived without,” Ambrose said. “She took away so many hits. There were so many hits that could have been doubles in the gap that she got to. She reads the ball very well and makes great diving plays in center field. She can get to any ball in front of and behind her. Her defense was huge for us. We wouldn’t have won sectionals without that.”
Additionally, Pepke brought strong leadership to the table in her senior season. She was a vocal presence during the team’s playoff run, which ultimately led to the program’s first sectional title since 2003.
“She was great off the field,” Ambrose said. “Through the whole playoff run, she was the calm voice on the team. She made sure everyone was focused, happy and enthusiastic. She’s a great leader who we could not have done without. She had great intangible qualities on and off the field.”
Pepke will continue her softball career at St. John Fisher College.
Alex Mucci, Outfield
Mucci was already a fearsome hitter, but this year she added a little something to her game: power. The senior had 14 RBIs and slugged .438. On top of that, she had 21 hits, batted .328 and scored 13 runs.
“She was always a good hitter, but the big thing this year was her power,” Williamsville North coach Michelle Switzer said. “She had a tremendous amount of power. She was a clutch player; she had the second-most RBIs on the team.”
Mucci spent a lot of time in the offseason working on her swing. Additionally, she worked hard in the gym after practice, aiming to get stronger. It paid off right away, as her increase in power was evident.
“She really worked hard in the offseason on her swing,” Switzer said. “She also has worked out a lot. After practice in the preseason, she would go to the gym to continue to work out. She’s a tiny girl, but when she was up, she was one of the most intimidating girls to go against because she could rip the ball no matter what situation it was. Before the season, we had some scrimmages in Disney, and she put a few over the fence. That was a big eye-opener for us to see that kind of power.”
Mucci was a key contributor to the team’s 16 wins this season and the run to the Class AA sectional semifinals. She was also the MVP of the Jerry Gentner “Just Show Up” Memorial Tournament with two hits and two RBIs in the championship game.
Mucci will attend the University of Kentucky next year, where she will join the Air Force ROTC program.
Haley Marlowe, Outfield
Marlowe was not an easy out. The junior outfielder hit .400 this season and struck out just three times in 68 at-bats.
“Her strength is hitting,” Clarence coach Todd Banaszak said. “This year she ended up being my leadoff hitter. I think she was third on the team in hits. She was second or third in hits. She might have been second on the team in hits. She batted about .400. Last year she was second on the team in hits as well.”
While she isn’t great at one specific skill, Marlowe is very good at several, including fielding, plate discipline and running.
“She runs well. She’s not a burner on the bases, but she is very difficult to strike out,” Banaszak said. “I think she only struck out twice in 68 plate appearances. We faced good pitching in our league and we played a tough non-league schedule. We had Nardin, who I think had the best pitcher in our area. We played Horseheads and other tough teams, and we only struck out twice all year.”
Marlowe has been a starter in left field for all three years that she has been on varsity. She’s got a good arm and has the knowledge and experience to play the position well.
“She’s good in the field,” Banaszak said. “She’s solid in left field. She’s been out there for three years; she knows how to play the position. She’s got a good arm. She doesn’t make too many mistakes out there.”
Marlowe was the ideal teammate this year, always practicing hard and never complaining. She had a good temperament and was consistent.
“She comes to practice every day, she works hard, she never complains,” Banaszak said. “It shows in her batting. She’s never too high or too low. She always has the poker face, she is always ready. She is always consistent at the plate. She leads by example.”
Abby Vincent, Catcher
Oftentimes, catchers are expected to focus on defense and their rapport with the pitcher more than their own offense. But multitasking is not a problem for Vincent. The junior had 20 hits, batted .303 and had a .387 on-base percentage on her way to earning her way to her second-straight All-Bee team.
“As a hitter, she gets better with better pitching,” Switzer said. “We played Clarence and won 2-1, facing Julianne Bolton on the mound. She had a double that gave us an RBI and scored after. We got on base, and she was clutch enough to hit people in.”
She caught every inning of the season behind the plate and racked up 106 putouts. Her arm prowess was well known among opponents, as only six girls attempted to steal on her, four of whom were caught.
“She had the quickest throw and release in the area,” Switzer said. “I’m a catching instructor, and it’s so rare to see such a quick release and throw. Even girls [who] are close to the base, she can get them. She’s definitely a game changer. We’re always sound with her behind the plate. Her framing and her ability to lead and talk to the pitchers is huge for us.”
Although Vincent was just a junior, she served as a team captain. She was a vocal leader who set a good example for her teammates.
“This year, vocally she really came out of her shell,” Switzer said. “She’s always behind the plate and all the girls are looking at her. After games and practices, she would stay after to clean up and ask if anyone needs help with equipment. She always does little things correctly. She never complained, even if we asked her to catch three games in one day. She was a trouper, and she’s earned her title.”
email: tnigrelli @beenews.com