Area Little League teams making waves on bigger stages

Submitted Photo Pictured is Fredonia softball minors pitcher Emerson Bird, who has pitched her team into the state tournament, which will be held in Dunkirk starting July 19.

While Little League participation is down across the country, teams from Chautauqua County continue to advance beyond the district level.

Monday night, Scott VanDette’s Fredonia minor softball team received a concession from Grand Island to move on to the state tournament held in Dunkirk, beginning July 19.

Grand Island conceded due to a scheduling conflict, but would’ve had to beat the favored Fredonia 9-10 year old girls twice in three games to advance if they had played.

The Fredonia baseball minors, coached by Tim Cowan, advanced to the Sectional tournament in Penfield.

Also representing Fredonia is the 10-12 year old girls, coached by Ed Schrantz, who will be playing in the state tournament in Fishkill.

For Dunkirk, the 10-12 year old boys, coached by Ryan Corbett, are ready for Sectionals in Bolliver.

All told, the area has four teams that won their district tournaments, two that have won Sectionals and two more competing in Sectionals for a chance to advance to states.

“It’s a great honor for the girls and myself,” VanDette said upon learning Grand Island could no longer compete following Monday’s rainout. “We faced a lot of good teams along the way. They have a real passion for the game.”

VanDette has been coaching essentially the same group of girls for about five years. The same girls play for the Diamond Queens travel team, which allows them to keep their skills sharp nearly year-round.

“We started practice with this group in January; they are very dedicated,” VanDette said.

The Fredonia softball minors are led by pitcher Emerson Bird, who was dominant throughout the district tournament.

Bird struck out 13 in Fredonia’s win over Fillmore to advance to the finals and 14 in the game before.

“Emerson has been outstanding with the number of strikeouts every game,” VanDette said. “She’s very consistent and I know what to expect from her every game. (Forestville varsity softball coach) Brianne Hazelton has been her pitching coach and she practices a lot with her dad to get as good as she is.”

Having that pitching sets the tone for the rest of the team and the defense does the job behind her. It’s a mutual trust.”

Dunkirk was the scene for the state tournament last year as part of a three year agreement to hold the tourney in the city. This year marks the second year in Dunkirk and the second year a local team has been a participant. Last year, the Dunkirk softball minors advanced.

“Dunkirk is the perfect place to host the state tournament,” District Administrator Marv Cummings said. “It’s on the lake and Dunkirk Little League has awesome volunteers that make things run smoothly. We have the lodging as well and places like the Clarion and the local restaurants get a lot of business. Last year’s tournament received high praise from the teams around the state that were here.”

In addition to the teams advancing through the sanctioned tournaments, there is a host of teams competing in non-sanctioned tournaments throughout the area.

“The sanctioned tournaments are where any league in District 38 and bracket can opt into,” Cummings said. “The winner moves onto Sectionals and then to states. A few years back, teams didn’t want to commit to the money for all the travel, but wanted the atmosphere of All-Star tourneys. So we started non-sanctioned, round robin district tournaments in Area A and B.

“It is a lot less travel and a lot less costly on the families. We make it happen for the kids because we want them to play more baseball or softball and that’s a way we encourage them to do it.”

Hanover is hosting the District 38 Area A baseball major tournament where teams from Fredonia, Dunkirk, Westfield, Brocton and Hanover are competing through July 20.

The District 38 Area B baseball majors is being hosted in Gerry where Bemus Point, Frewsburg, Falconer, Randolph, Southwestern and Valley play through July 20.

For the minors, the District 38 Area A tourney is being played in Brocton through July 18. Teams included are Westfield, Brocton, Fredonia, Dunkirk and Hanover.

Finally, the District 38 Area B minors are playing at Falconer with teams from Randolph, Falconer, Bemus Point and Southwestern compete through July 18.