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Zimmerman Leads(-off) the Flames

There wasn’t really anything up grabs. No points, no rivalry, no chance of seeing the opponent again. Just a non-league game that served as good tune-up for the playoffs.

Both the Williamsville East Lady Flames and the Niagara Wheatfield Lady Falcons took advantage of the opportunity as they came out swinging Tuesday afternoon. In the end, it was the Flames coming out on top 10-4, in a Section VI non-league softball matchup.

“Our goal today was to play well,” Williamsville East head coach Chris Durr said. “(Wheatfield) said it was a good game against a good team and we took it the same way.”

The game got off to a quick start as Niagara Wheatfield sophomore Madison Evarts hit a single and stole second base. Then captains Mackenzie Franks and Madison Klidonas got on base. Klidonas successfully converted a bunt to load the bases for sophomore Mackenzie Quider. Though Quider grounded out, Evarts got home to put the Falcons on the board. On the next at bat, junior Mikaela Milleville hit a double to drive in Franks and Klidonas to give Wheatfield the 3-0 lead.

However, the Flames answered right back.

Will-East lead-off hitter, junior Veronica Zimmerman got the Flames offense going with a single. Then captains Jessica Weaver and Brianna Bucello both got on, to load the bases for sophomore Christy Mack. Mack hit a fly ball out to right field that was long enough to allow Zimmerman to tag up and score. Eight-grader Abby Stellrecht then drove home Weaver and Bucello. Later in the inning, sophomore Maddy Miske hit a double to bring home Stellrecht and senior captain Samantha Crane to give the Flames the 5-3 lead after the first inning.

Sophomore Katie Kostiw took advantage of an error committed by the Flames’ infield and turned a single into a double, to get some momentum back for the Falcons. Kostiw then stole third base and came home for the Falcons’ final run off a ground ball from Evarts.

The second inning started the same way as the first for the Flames. Zimmerman hit a single and Weaver walked. Bucello came up with another hit, this time driving in Zimmerman. Mack again hit a sacrifice fly which brought home Weaver. The Flames had a 7-4 lead after two innings.

Zimmerman, a three-year varsity player, went 4 for 4 at the plate, with a stolen base and scored three runs for Will-East. She would’ve had a perfect game in the field too, if it weren’t for her tripping over the bag when trying to catch a foul ball in the sixth inning. But the third baseman made up for it by catching the next foul that came her way and making the final out of the game on tough throw to first base.

The lead-off hitter takes her position seriously and knows that it sets the tone for the rest of the team.

“Being able to start off the hitting and getting momentum going is important,” Zimmerman said. “It gets the team riled up thinking that they are able to hit as well.”

According to Durr, Zimmerman is the type of player who gets more line drives and hits to the outfield, rather than outrunning ground balls.

“She’s a slapper, but not a traditional slapper,” Durr said. “She’s a good hitter from that position.”

Flames’ sophomore catcher Grace Pogorzala was walked in the third inning and junior Madison Kozlowski came in to pinch run for her. After a Zimmerman hit and Bucello getting hit by a pitch, the bases were loaded and the pressure was on the Falcons. The pressure clearly got to the Falcons as a wild pitch went by the catcher and Kozlowski stole home.

Mack came up to the plate with runners in scoring position and blasted one into left field, bringing in Zimmerman and Bucello. Mack tried to turn the hit into a triple but was tagged for the third out.

Despite getting the out the play seemed to relinquish any hope of a Wheatfield comeback as the Flames were able to go three up, three down in the fourth inning and prevented any Falcon from getting beyond first base for the rest of the game.

Niagara Wheatfield head coach Melanie Proefrock was happy with her team’s offensive performance, but was disappointed in their effort on the defensive side.

“Offensively, we had good pitch selection and discipline from the plate,” Proefrock said. “Defensively, we have things we need to work on before sectionals.”

The Falcons head into the post-season with a 12-3 record overall. They earned the third seed in the Class AA playoffs by going 12-2 in the Niagara Frontier League this season.

In order to be successful in the playoffs, Proefrock believes her team needs to show more energy

“I want to see more fight in them,” Proefrock said. “I don’t care if we’re up by three runs or down by three runs in first inning or the seventh inning. We’re going to have to give our all for seven innings because its win or go home.”

Williamsville East ends the regular season with an overall record of 13-3 and an 10-2 record in the ECIC II, earning them the No. 1 seed in the Section VI Class A1 playoffs.

The Flames put themselves in that position thanks in large part to last week as they won all four of their league games, earning 20 power points toward seeding.

The formula has been simple for the Flames; hitting and playing strong defense.

“Hit the ball and make plays behind our pitchers, that’s what we’ve been doing all year,” Durr said. “The pitchers throw strikes and we play well.”

Sophomore Cara Leone went for five innings, picking up win on the bump for the Flames.

The Flames will host No. 8 seed North Tonawanda on Thursday at 4:45pm in the first round of the Class A1 playoffs. Niagara Wheatfield has a week off before they host No. 6 seed Frontier at 4:45 pm in the second round of the Class AA playoffs.

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