N-W wins battle of the Falcons, moves on to semifinals
By David Yarger
When it comes to the postseason in high school sports, the motto everyone lives by is survive and advance. On Monday evening, the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons softball team did exactly that.
The No. 3 seeded Falcons defeated the No. 6 seeded Frontier Falcons, 2-1, in the quarterfinals of the Class AA Section VI playoffs.
All season long, the Falcons have been particularly known for their offensive output. Monday, this was not the case, as the team struck out a season high 16 times versus Frontier pitcher Fiona Higgins, but the team used dominant pitching and stellar defense to seal the victory.
The majority of the Falcons' offense came in the first inning, as Madison Evarts reached first via fielding error, then stole second base. Mikaela Milleville followed with a walk. A couple pitches later, a passed ball placed Evarts and Milleville at third and second base, respectively. No. 4 hitter Mackenzie Quider up, Quider drilled a double into the right-center field gap, scoring Evarts and Milleville.
The two runs proved to be all the Falcons needed, as starter Madison Kwitchoff kept runs off the board through three innings and kept her defense working.
In the top of the third inning, with the bases loaded, N-W shortstop Mackenzie Franks made a leaping catch to rob a possible run-scoring base hit.
In the top of the fourth, second baseman Taylor Benton began the inning with a jumping grab to rob a base hit, as well.
Frontier got to Kwitchoff in the fourth, though, as the 6-8 hitters singled three straight times. Following a walk to the No. 9 hitter to drive in Frontier's first run, N-W coach Jim Proefrock replaced Kwitchoff with Quider.
Quider was dominant, as she induced a groundout to third base, which was thrown to home plate for the force out. Then, Quider finished the inning with a strikeout.
Offensively, the Falcons couldn't push a runner past second base after the first inning.
The offensive woes didn't affect N-W, though, as Quider sat the Frontier bats down one-two-three in the fifth inning, stranded a runner at third via an error in the sixth inning, and finished by averting a leadoff walk and sacrifice to strikeout the next two batters and put the N-W victory on ice.
In the circle, Kwitchoff, the winning pitcher, allowed just four hits and gave up one earned run in 3 1/3 innings pitched, while Quider threw 3 2/3 innings of no-hit ball with three strikeouts.
Proefrock gave credit to Frontier's fight and also that his team was able not get down on themselves due to the offensive woes.
"I give a lot of credit to their pitcher," Proefrock said. "I've always said it before - defense wins games when the bats go quiet - and that's what we did today. Quider came in nice in relief and got the save. ... They weren't ready to be done with their season, so we're going to continue on and move on."
The Falcons next task is versus the No. 2 seeded Williamsville North Spartans. Proefrock said the battle his team received from Frontier would be a good test for the semifinal matchup versus the Spartans.
"It's a great test mentally and physically. I think physically we saw something that we could work on and get the sticks going a little bit. Then, mentally I think it was a great test for us that they can stay focused and stay in a very close game.
"We go up 2-0 ... and then we just shut it down the rest of the way; the bats went a little cold, but it was just enough that we had to do and we made through," Proefrock said.
The Falcons' semifinal bout at Williamsville North starts at 4:45 p.m., Thursday.
Just missed: Niagara-Wheatfield shortstop Mackenzie Franks just misses making a diving catch to rob Frontier of a basehit.