When the Fredonia Lady Hillbillies (15-3, 9-3) play host to the Dunkirk Lady Marauders (8-7, 8-4) Monday in CCAA Division 1 high school softball action, it will mark more than the second and final regular season game between the two rivals this season.
Both teams are also in the hunt for the league title. Fredonia leads Olean (8-3) by a half-game in the standings while Dunkirk is just a game behind in third.
The Lady Hillbillies led Allegany-Limestone, 7-0, in the third inning before play was suspended due to weather. The game - and Fredonia's regular season - will be finished Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Lady Marauders will finish league play against Jamestown on Tuesday. The Lady Huskies play Allegany-Limestone Monday and Falconer Tuesday to end their Division 1 slate.
Khee Nance in one of several seniors who will be playing in their final Dunkirk-Fredonia game today, at Fredonia High School.
"If we win (today) and we win that completed game on Tuesday, we might lead or tie with Olean," Fredonia coach Joe Pucciarelli said. "If Dunkirk beats us and Olean loses, it could be a three-way tie."
A victory for the Lady Marauders would mean a season sweep as Dunkirk downed the Lady Hillbillies at home, 6-5, April 30.
"There's definitely a lot on the line," Dunkirk coach John Sliwa said. "We just go out and play ball. It's just another ball game. We put ourselves in quite a predicament and we think too much about it. If we play the style of ball we're supposed to play, we'll be fine. Everything else will take care of itself."
Sliwa's team has gone 3-1 since the Fredonia win with victories over Southwestern (May 1), Gowanda (May 6) and Allegany-Limestone (May 8). The Lady Marauders blew a 6-0 first-inning lead against the Lady Gators May 6 and suffered a 10-9 loss.
"We control our own destiny, but we've basically got to win out," Sliwa told the OBSERVER after the game.
It's going to take consistency for Dunkirk to reach the aforementioned legacy.
"We haven't done it all year," Sliwa said. "If our heads are in the right places, our bodies will follow. We will struggle at times. If we do put it together, we'll be fine. In the meantime, we'll just work through it."
Meanwhile, the Lady Hillbillies have gone undefeated since losing to Dunkirk but gave up 23 runs on 38 hits in their last two completed games. Fredonia gave up four runs in the bottom of the seventh and held on for a 13-11 win at Falconer May 6 and needed a Bre Dahn RBI triple to beat Gowanda, 13-12, Wednesday.
"Baylee Tarnowski has pitched so much for us," Pucciarelli said. "Tess Schober got the ball in two starts, but Tarnowski's pitched every inning of every game. I don't know if she had a little dead-arm period, but she came back at (Allegany-Limestone) and looked like she was a lot crisper, a lot more focused than she's been."
Tarnowski will be in the circle for Fredonia Monday. She allowed six runs on 12 hits and struck out seven in the first meeting between the two teams.
Joyce Bomasuto got the start for Dunkirk in the first game and allowed four runs in a complete-game effort, but it isn't certain if she'll start this time around.
"I know who I'm throwing," Sliwa said. "I'm not telling anybody."
If Fredonia wins, it would move a team featuring seventh-grader Cassie Essek, eighth-graders Katie Webster and McKenna Leid and ninth-grader Savannah Rivera one step closer to at least a share of a league title.
"You'd hope this would give the kids confidence going into next year," Pucciarelli said. "We haven't treated them like seventh and eighth-graders. They've rose to the occasion. Each and every one of them have been an integral part of the team. They've all been to state championships in Little League, so they know the pressure."
Both coaches look forward to a tight game, weather permitting.
"I hope the weather agrees with us," Sliwa said. "We've had a really nice stretch of weather. There's a lot of games packed into a little bit of time. A lot of people are going to go back-to-back here."
"They've been great games," Pucciarelli said. "I expect Monday to be great, also. Dunkirk's a well-coached team. It's always a big game. I hope we go out there and play well."