Williamsville South softball coach Julie Murphy knew she had a strong returning team this season. But she wasn't so sure about one thing – her pitching staff.
So when senior Samantha Moon emerged as the ace and led the Billies to 22 wins, Murphy, while mildly surprised with Moon, knew her team would come together.
"We were pretty optimistic this year, but we just had to put together the pieces," Murphy said. "We have great overall depth."
That depth, along with Moon, proved too much for other schools to overcome as the Billies won 22 games and took home a state championship trophy after defeating Sayville (Long Island) 21-4 in the Class A state final game in Glens Falls, N.Y.
To say Moon had been a surprise to her team may be an understatement.
"She wasn't a pitcher until this year," Murphy said. "She started off in the mix and then led the way for us on the mound."
The Billies defeated Lake Shore, Kenmore East, West Seneca East and Starpoint to win the Section VI title. They then knocked off Geneva in the Far West Regional.
In the next game, the state semifinal against Troy (Albany), Moon was pulled in the second inning after giving up a few quick runs. Courtney Gracz came in and pitched well as Williamsville South won, 7-6.
"We wouldn't have been in the state final without (Courtney's) performance that day," Murphy said. "She pitched innings two through seven and absolutely shut down Troy."
In the final, it at first looked like Williamsville South (22-2, 9-1 ECIC II) would have to repeat the drama. In a back-and-forth game, the Billies were tied with Sayville, 3-3, in the bottom of the third inning.
"I just kept telling the girls to relax and play our game and the pieces would fall," Murphy said. "We put together seven or eight hits and scored nine runs that inning. It was then 12-3 after three innings, which gave Moon confidence the rest of the way. She was able to hold them to one run the rest of the way."
Moon pitched all seven innings and gave up only six hits. Every hitter in the Billies' order also contributed a hit that day.
Senior catcher Stephanie Tirone, one of the team's best hitters, went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a three-run HR and 6 RBIs. Emily Martin finished 5-for-5 at the plate.
"We had seven seniors on this team and they provided great leadership," Murphy said. "They all played with heart and led by example. It took a collective team effort the entire playoffs."
South's stellar defense contributed to such a successful season, Murphy said. Seniors Morgan Maley and Megan Mingle patrolled the outfield, while seniors Martin (shortstop) and Bri Clark (third basemen) helped lead an "all-star infield," Murphy said. Martin and Clark were returning ECIC Division II co-players of the year.
It was the Billies first appearance in the state tournament in eight years.
"No question this helps our program," Murphy said. "We had a lot of seniors on this team that helped build the program in the last few years. I've been coaching them for a while and they'll forever be in Will South history as being a part of the turning point."
Of the seven graduating seniors, six will continue playing softball: Clark will play for Niagara, Tirone will play for Cortland, Martin and Maley will play for Geneseo, Mingle for Buffalo State, and Moon will pitch for Onondaga Community College.
Murphy said a handful of juniors have been receiving attention from colleges and she expects at least a few of them to play after high school.
"Just getting this far in the playoffs gives our girls confidence to play with the best," she said. "We have seven returning players, which is great to see for next year."