By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
An afternoon packed with drama ended in bitter disappointment for the Pierson softball team, which let a critical game against first-place Babylon slip away last Thursday afternoon.
Moments after scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth inning, Pierson shortstop Kasey Gilbride crashed full speed into Babylon catcher Michelle Mangini, who laid flat on the ground for nearly 20 minutes while her coach, Rick Punzone, berated umpires for he believed was a blown call.
Punzone was ultimately ejected and the umpires decided at one point to cancel the remainder of the game until Pierson Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio talked them into reversing their decision.
“We decided it was best for the kids to continue the game,” Gulluscio said at the time.
With Punzone in the parking lot watching from the back of his team bus, the Lady Whalers tacked on three more runs to take a 6-2 lead into the seventh and final inning.
But with the biggest win of the season in sight, the defensive wheels fell off for the Lady Whalers at a most inopportune time. A series of errors in the infield in the top of the seventh inning allowed the Lady Panthers to tie the game and send it to extra innings, where they scored three more runs in the top of the eighth to win, 9-6.
“We fell apart and it’s unfortunate because up until that point we played a hell of a game,” Pierson head coach Melissa Edwards said.
In an interview on Monday, Punzone talked about the controversial play at home plate and said the rulebook states that a runner cannot run through the catcher in an attempt to score a run.
“She has to avoid the tag, give herself up or slide and she did none of the three,” Punzone said about Gilbride. “I’m not blaming the player, though. I was protecting my player and I felt the umpire was not looking out for that.”
Edwards, who was a catcher herself in college, said the call at home plate is a judgment call for the umpire, who ruled that Gilbride inadvertently ran into the catcher, who, Edwards said, was standing too close to home plate.
“That whole commotion that went down, I think it affected a lot of our girls,” Edwards said. “But how are you going to say a girl has to give herself up in a close game like that? My girls don’t play dirty, they play hard and they play correctly.”
Babylon lost to Hampton Bays on Tuesday and fell into second place in League V with an 11-2 record. As of Tuesday, Center Moriches was in first place alone at 12-1.
Pierson (10-3) bounced back with an 8-7 win over Mercy on April 25 and a 7-3 victory over Port Jefferson on Tuesday to remain in the hunt for a league title.
Earlier in the game against Babylon, Gilbride cut the lead to 2-1 with a towering home run over the center field fence in the bottom of the fourth inning. In the sixth, Isabel Peters reached on an infield single and Gilbride reached on a bunt. Emma Romeo laid down another bunt, and the Babylon defense botched the play, which allowed Peters to score and Gilbride to be called safe before her collision at home plate. Sabrina Baum capped the inning with a two-run double to put Pierson up, 6-2.
The excitement was short-lived, however, as Babylon tacked on seven runs in the final two innings to escape with the win.
The Lady Whalers reversed their late-inning fate a day later when freshman Lottie Evans broke open a tie game against Mercy by driving in Zoe Diskin with what turned out to be the game-winning run in the seventh inning. Sam Duchemin shut the door in the bottom of the seventh, and the Lady Whalers were back to their winning ways.
Against Port Jeff on Tuesday, Duchemin tossed a one-hitter while striking out six with no walks. She was also 2 for 4 at the plate with a solo home run in the seventh inning. Sabrina Baum went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
Next up for Pierson is a game at Southold/Greenport today, May 1, at 4:30 p.m., followed by a showdown at Center Moriches tomorrow at 4:30 p.m.
The Lady Whalers will close out the regular season with three straight home games, starting Monday, May 5 against Stony Brook at 4:30 p.m.