And the finals are set

Last season, the Pine Valley Lady Panthers entered the Section 6 Class D softball playoffs with a below .500 record and went on a Cinderella run all the way to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four.

With most of that team back this season and a year more experienced, the Lady Panthers are set to square off against the Brocton Lady Bulldogs today at the Martin Road Sports Complex in Jamestown at 4 p.m.

The Lady Bulldogs can take a page out of Pine Valley’s 2013 book as they are now playing their best softball of the season after a sub-par regular season.

“I told the girls that last year we were playing our best softball coming into playoffs,” Pine Valley co-coach Mark Mansfield said. “Brocton is doing the same thing this year. They are playing their best softball. They are a very dangerous team right now. They are playing with a lot of confidence. Their ranking doesn’t matter at all. You can’t take anyone lightly. We were in their position last year as underdog and we saw what happened. We are going in there expecting they will be playing hard. Hopefully we are ready for it.”

Brocton has used stellar pitching from Jess Merle and Jess Putcher to make it to the finals.

“I have two good pitchers,” Brocton coach Jeff Franze noted. “And when you have good pitching, and eventually if the hitting and fielding comes around, you’re going to be alright.”

Pine Valley has used pitching from Jessica Wilcox, who was the catalyst to the Lady Panthers’ deep postseason run last year.

“We hope to get a good performance from Jessica Wilcox in the circle,” Mansfield said. “She is pitching her best right now. We have been playing solid defense behind her. Defense is always key. I think if she pitches well and we play good defense behind her, we will be in good shape. I think we will find a way to score a few runs.”

The run has been extra special for Franze, as he will be retiring at the end of the school year.

“It’s a good way to end it,” Franze said. “I’ve pretty much had the same crew that I had last year. There were a few changes and we had to make some changes at some important positions, but it’s been a very satisfying season.”

Brocton’s league schedule consisted of Cassadaga Valley, Chautauqua Lake, Westfield, Panama, Sherman and Clymer. Meanwhile, Pine Valley took on Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Franklinville, Forestville, North Collins, Ellicottville and West Valley.

Both coaches feel their league schedule prepared them for the playoffs.

“It was a tough league this year, like the one Pine Valley played in,” Franze said. “I liked the league we were in with the mixture of (Class) C and (Class) D teams. I think it made our girls stronger for the playoffs.”

The winner of the game will face Section 5’s Arkport on?Friday in the Far West?Regionals.

“We lost ball games, but we were in every ball game and our division was definitely tough,” said Mansfield, noting Cattaraugus-Little Valley and Franklinville are playing in the Class C semifinals today and both were in their division. “I think we are ready. I am fully expecting they are going to go out there and play a good game and have good results.”

Franze concluded, “We’re happy and excited about playing in the final.”