Having spent equal number of years living in Depew and Lancaster, whose children and grandchild attended both school districts, I found today’s Buffalo News report heartwarming in today’s world of divisiveness and hate. And another reason to respect and love my community.

It’s time to state their case
Neighboring Lancaster, Depew among softball elite

By Rachel Lenzi

During the final innings of the Depew softball team’s 5-0 win against Wellsville in the Class B Far West championship game last weekend, a group of Lancaster softball players waited to warm up for the Class AA regional title game.

Lancaster’s players recognized not just their opponents, but their friends, training partners and summer and youth softball teammates in the Class B regional. As the Wildcats walked off the field at Grand Island after beating Wellsville, the Legends were the first to offer high-fives and congratulations.

“We were so happy for them, and it brought up our whole mood,” Lancaster catcher Ellie Park said. “Seeing how excited and happy and seeing them win was a confidence booster. Our whole mood brightened up. As we’re walking off the field, we were cheering for them, and taking pictures and yell- ing, ‘Another one for Western New York!’ “Watching the Wildcats win a regional championship lifted the Legends, too. Later that day, they beat Fairport, 6-0, to win the Class AA Far West regional — and Park received text messages from some Depew players, congratulating the Lancers on the win.

Rivals are rooting for each other now

Lancaster and Depew will play in the NYSPHSAA softball semifinals Saturday at Moriches Athletic Complex on Long Island. Section VI is one of seven sections to have multiple teams in the state softball semifinals, but Lancaster and Depew provide a unique representation.

Lancaster and Depew are neighboring schools in bordering towns — Lancaster High’s campus is less than four miles north of Depew’s campus — and Lancaster- Depew is one of the notable rivalries in Western New York high school athletics.

“We’re rivals on the football field, but close in every other way,” Lancaster coach Kelly Ambrose said. “I grew up in Lancaster, I lived here my whole life, and we have so much support from both towns, and our programs have so much respect for each other.”

The Legends (18-2) will play Monroe-Woodbury of Section IX in a Class AA semifinal at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Wildcats (18-5) will play Ichabod Crane of Section II in a Class B semifinal at 1:30 p.m. The winners advance to the state championship games Sunday at Moriches Athletic Complex.

“Between the players and the coaches from each program, there’s a lot of dedication,” said Mary Grace Bauer, a senior catcher/ infielder for Depew. “We are both working towards a common goal, and we are always trying to get better, no matter what the method is. We’re programs that want the same things.”
Ambrose sees another common thread between the Legends and the Wildcats.

“There is a love for softball and a love for their teammates,” said Ambrose, who is an English teacher at Lancaster High. “There is no ego for either team. They’re there for each other, they’re there for the sport. And there’s a love for the game, on both teams. There is no ego — it’s all about the teams’ success, and (Depew coach) Dan (Seelig) and I really focus on having good sportsmanship and good teams.”

The two teams met in a nonleague game May 16 at Depew. Lancaster won 6-0, but Legends pitcher Madi Balk and Wildcats pitcher Jordan Kanick each took no-hitters into the sixth inning. “We always try to scrimmage them or play them in a non-league game,” said Seelig, Depew’s coach. “As a Class B school, it challenges us in a way that we don’t see in our league schedule. And Kelly (Ambrose) wants to keep that Depew-Lancaster rivalry alive.”

Then, Seelig laughed. “I’m a Depew alum and it always has something to do with us playing Lancaster,” he said. “But it is always a respectful rivalry. And we are always trying to learn about our teams.”

Balk saw the non-league game as a way for the Legends to prepare for the postseason. “It was definitely competitive,” Balk said. “We were trying to iron out things. We were looking at it as a way to get better against each other.”

The Legends returned an experienced lineup, which includes Balk, a Florida State commit and outfielder Kaitlin Romanowski. The Wildcats, though, have a lineup that includes a range of ages, including seventh-grader Camryn Domino starting at third base and eighth-grader Ella Pagano starting at shortstop. The Wildcats have only two seniors, but Seelig regards senior centerfielder Emma Hill as the team’s defensive anchor, and Bauer, a two-year captain, is the No. 5 hitter and one of Depew’s most versatile players.

“We had a non-league game in the beginning of the season (against Lancaster),” Bauer said. “Our team wasn’t where it was at right now. And that showed later in the year — we went 0-0 in the first five innings. We saw a growth in our confidence. We went in there; we didn’t really know each other. We had a whole new infield and outfield, and hitting-wise, we went from strikeouts to people hitting the ball. There was a lot of trust and confidence between everyone.”

As Balk watched the Wildcats close out the shutout win against Wellsville, she thought back to the spring preseason scrimmage against Depew.

“It was so cool to watch them do it,” Balk said. “As soon as they got the final out, they were all excited. They earned it. We have seen them improve so much since we scrimmaged them in April, and it was so great to see a team from the area and we knew, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’”