‘Our Time Is Due’

Fredonia Seeks More Than Just Third Straight Sectional Title


FREDONIA — A year ago, one of the most dominant stretches a pitcher has put together in recent years carried the Fredonia ‘Billies to another Section VI softball title.

That dominant pitcher, Jordan Lucas, is back for one more ride with her teammates on a quest to repeat — and maybe more.

The ‘Billies have won back-to-back Section VI Championships, but in each year, they followed up their coronation with a loss in the Class B crossover game. Lucas and three other seniors — Sophia Gullo, Ellie VanDette and Jaelyn Davis — all have one last shot at advancing beyond Western New York and on to a trip to states.

“I really believe that this year, we have some great players coming back and some great players that have come up to varsity this year, so we can move past those mental blocks and go farther than the crossover game,” Gullo said. “Our time is due and I think we are ready for it.”

Led by Lucas, who has since signed a letter of intent to play Division I softball at St. Bonaventure University, Fredonia ran through the Class B2 postseason bracket with ease a year ago. Lucas threw three straight shutouts to carry Fredonia to a successful title defense as Section VI Class B2 champions. Lucas allowed only one hit throughout the entire Class B2 bracket, beginning with a no-hitter in an 11-0 quarterfinal victory over No. 7 Royalton-Hartland. Lucas then threw a perfect game in a 3-0 semifinal win over No. 3 Falconer to earn a spot in the title game.

Sophia Gullo returns for her senior season with the Fredonia ‘Billies as one of four seniors on the team. P-J file photo by Braden Carmen

There, she threw a one-hit shutout over Akron in a 12-0 win to solidify a second championship in as many years for the ‘Billies.

Because of such a dominant run through the postseason, Fredonia entered the crossover game on a high, especially after a double-digit blowout to win the title. But in that game, things unraveled for the ‘Billies behind several defensive mistakes that seemed to snowball into an avalanche. Fredonia’s season came to an end with a 9-4 loss to Iroquois.

“We didn’t make many mistakes in the league leading up, so all of our mistakes just came out in the crossover game,” Davis said.

Beers and Lucas agreed that the team was not focused on the crossover game itself in either of the past two seasons, with a carryover effect from the sectional championship game impacting the team’s performance, in addition to the nerves that came with the stakes attached to the contest.

“We have to keep the energy up the whole season,” Lucas said. “… This year, I need to make sure everyone keeps the energy up, no negativity, and just enjoy the game.”

The loss to end her season in the crossover game a year ago has not deterred Lucas one bit. Fredonia’s ace is still as confident as ever.

“You always learn something every year. It’s just about not getting down,” Lucas said. “If you strike out, you’ve got to say, ‘You got me, I’ve got you next.’ It’s the same way on the mound. If someone gets a hit, ‘Good for you, you earned your spot on. It’s not going to happen again.'”

Two senior starters from a year ago, Jenna Truby and Gaby Matos, graduated shortly after the season came to an end. Sarah Davis also graduated after missing her senior season with a knee injury. But with a lineup that often batted 10 players last year, Fredonia brings back nearly an entire lineup worth of experienced varsity softball players.

Despite so many returning players, Fredonia does not have a lineup set in place. The flexibility of several players leaves multiple positions unsettled entering the season. Beers sees that as a positive, as the spots that are not set in stone will allow for players to rotate throughout the year.

“It’s nice to have some moving parts, some kids that are versatile enough that I can move them around,” Beers said.

Beers highlighted the four seniors as some of the keys to the team’s success this season. He praised Gullo’s versatility to move from last year’s regular role as shortstop to more of a utility role this season at both second base and the outfield. Beers also noted Davis and VanDette will be heavily counted on to produce offensively.

“(VanDette) will certainly be in the game for her stick because she hit the ball really well for us last year. She’s been very consistent, she’s a tough out, so we want to keep her bat in the lineup regardless,” Beers said.

Referring to Davis, Beers said, “It’s never been a question about her offense. She’s always been able to hit it a ton.”

Beers hopes the experience this season’s team enters the year with will put the ‘Billies in a better position to advance past the crossover game that has tripped them up in the past two years. In addition to experience on the field, Fredonia’s veteran group has continued to grow away from the field, as well. VanDette highlighted team bonding experiences — such as team dinners and a team sleepover — as ways the team has come together to be more confident and comfortable as one unit.

Davis said the team is trying to stay relaxed entering the season to try to avoid the pressure that comes from being a back-to-back sectional champion.

“It becomes very mental with that much pressure on,” Gullo added.

Lucas said the focus this year is simple: “Have fun.” Everything else will work itself out if the ‘Billies do not get consumed by the pressure.

“I feel like some of the years we’ve just gotten so tense that we’ve killed ourselves instead of just enjoying the game that we all love,” Lucas said.

While having fun will be a focal point of Fredonia’s team this year, that doesn’t mean the ‘Billies are taking anything lightly. Winning is fun, too, and Fredonia has done a lot of it in recent years.

“It’s my senior year and I don’t want to hold back. I want everyone to go 100% all the time. This is the end of it for our core group … and we’ve just got to give it our all and do everything we can because there’s no next year,” Gullo said.

However, this season is still an early chapter in the story for many others on Fredonia’s roster. In addition to four seniors, Fredonia will also count on a pair of freshmen in their first full year dedicated to key positions on the field. Naomi Muck will assume the role of starting shortstop, with a strong arm and a quick release that caught her coach’s eye. Callie Draggett will be the full-time catcher in her second full season with Fredonia’s varsity team. After being called up during her seventh-grade year, Draggett became a full-time starter a year ago, splitting between center field and catcher.

“She’ll be the catcher,” Beers said, without hesitation. He noted an offseason injury has slightly interrupted her preparation, but once Draggett is ready to go, she will be behind the plate regularly, catching one of the best pitchers in not only Western New York, but all across the state.

“When you’ve got (Lucas) in the circle, she can erase and kind of hide a lot of weaknesses on our team,” Beers said. “… You might score two or three runs in a game, and that’s going to be enough sometimes. Sometimes you might score one run and that will be enough.”

Beers doesn’t worry that Lucas will become complacent now that she is already a D-I softball signee, even with multiple Section VI titles, no-hitters, and perfect games on her résumé. “I don’t see that with her. I see her feeling like we have more work to do,” Beers said. “… She’s still driving, she’s still working, she’s still got that hunger in her. She wants to get to states. Personally, she’s already done everything else she can do. … I don’t think she really cares about individual accolades anymore. She wants a team to go to states.”

While goals so high bring pressure along with them, Lucas is not afraid of answering the call in her final year of high school softball.

“The pressure is always there, but it’s a lot more this year because I’ve committed,” Lucas said, referring to her Division-I softball commitment to St. Bonaventure University. At the time of her signing, Lucas spoke to the duty she felt to be a role model for young women in the community. That thought is still in her mind entering her final season.

“Everybody is looking up to me, especially some of the little ones here. I’ve got to be a good role model,” Lucas said.

While Lucas has dedicated her whole life to softball, Beers noted that last season was the first full season of varsity softball for many members of the team. With another year to mature, Beers believes this year’s team has the potential to be even better.

“It seems like every year, we take it one more step further than what we’ve had in the past. We always want to get better than what we’ve done,” Beers said. He noted that two years ago, in the crossover game, his team played like it already accomplished its goal of being a sectional champion. Last year, Beers believed his team was in a better mindset, but they “just didn’t play particularly well” in the season-ending loss to Iroquois. “I’m hoping that now that we’ve been there, with the same group of kids going back, we have a little bit more of that swagger,” he said.

Swagger is something Lucas has never lacked. Even on the biggest stage a year ago, she was lip-syncing with the songs blaring over the speakers at Grand Island High School during the crossover game. But now, rather than a familiar song playing over the speakers as she tosses warm-up pitches between innings, Lucas has her heart set on another sound echoing for all of her teammates to hear.

“I want to hear our names called in the hallway and watch everybody clap us out,” Lucas said, referring to the Fredonia tradition of sending off its state qualifiers with a school-wide celebration. “I want a clap out. That would be fun.”


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