By Benito Vila
Game on the line. It’s the way every athlete dreams of playing. That sort of intensity has become part of the Pierson varsity softball of late.
Going into the week, the Lady Whalers needed a pair of wins to be eligible for playoffs. In earning the first 5-0 on the road in Southold Friday and then clinching their spot Saturday 4-3 in extra innings at Mercy, the team experienced playoff pressure and came away on top.
That was not the case Tuesday in Mashashimuet Park, the girls seeing a 1-0 lead evaporate in the top of the seventh against league-leader Hampton Bays. Lady Whalers’ coach Melissa Edwards saw base hits by the Lady Baymen and sloppy play in the field “snowball in the wrong direction”, Pierson coming into their last at-bat down 4-1.
Three strikeouts around a single were not enough to undo the damage done, the Lady Whalers’ league mark falling to 8-7 on the seniors’ last home game. Despite the sudden loss, the girls and their families celebrated their season with a post-game cookout festooned with balloons, posters and flowers.
Port Jeff and more Port Jeff
Yesterday the entire team made its way to Hampton Bays to scout first- round playoff opponent Port Jefferson. Tomorrow the Lady Whalers go west to play those same Lady Royals in Port Jeff to conclude the regular season.
The best-of-three series between Pierson and Port Jeff that opens tournament for the Lady Whalers will crown the county’s Class C champion. The winner will move further into the county tournament and also into regional play in the state tournament.
Game one of the Class C title series is set for Saturday, May 23 at 11 a.m., most likely in Port Jeff, unless the Lady Royals lose their last two. Coach Edwards is hoping to keep her team sharp next week by scheduling scrimmages with other playoff eligible teams and practicing in the park.
“Whatever we do,” said Coach Edwards Tuesday, “We’re going to hit. Our offense needs work. We have to pick it up a notch or two now. Nothing makes games easier to win than scoring runs.”
Scoring wasn’t a problem last Friday, the Lady Whalers posting two runs in their first at bat. Natalie Abbene led off the game with a single, moved to third on a Katie Osiecki base hit and scored on a Samanthe Federico sacrifice fly. A passed ball later brought in Osiecki, the team taking the field for the first time with an immediate advantage.
Pitcher Melanie Stafford settled in within the circle and kept the Lady Clippers quiet, allowing the Lady Whalers’ 2-0 lead to hold up. A Southold error jump-started a Pierson rally in the sixth, Danielle Schiavoni getting on, Brianna Hand singling her to second and Abby Gawronski singling her home to put Pierson up 3-0.
The Lady Whalers pulled away in the seventh, adding two more runs on RBI singles by Hand and Megan Pintauro to make the score 5-0. A single by Federico and a walk to Kaci Koehne set up the rally.
Stafford finished the game with a two-hitter, striking out 10 in recording her fourth win of the year.
Stafford was also the pitcher Saturday at Mercy, continuing her string of shutout innings into the home fourth. By then, Pierson already had a 1-0 lead, an Osiecki double, a Pintauro single and a Schiavoni sacrifice fly accounting for the lone run.
In the fourth, Mercy made the most of three singles, a walk and a groundout, the quick flurry by giving the Lady Monarchs a 2-1 lead. Pierson regained the lead in the sixth, singles by Federico and Koehne and an error loading the bases and the runs scoring when Pintauro was hit by a pitch and Schiavoni singled.
The 3-2 Lady Whaler lead was short-lived, an infield error in the bottom of the sixth putting a Mercy runner on and a second infield error bringing her in. A scoreless seventh sent the game into extra innings, every pitch and every at-bat becoming ever more meaningful to both sides.
The Lady Whalers broke through in the eighth, a Pintauro double putting pressure on the Lady Monarchs. Pinch running for Pintauro, Alicia Tagliasacchi took third on an infield error and scored on a Lindsay Warne ground out to put Pierson ahead 4-3. Stafford pitched a scoreless eighth to close out the win for the Lady Whalers and clinch the team’s playoff berth. Federico, Koehne and Pintauro all went two-for-three in the game.
Playoff intensity was palpable Tuesday, the ladies hosting first place Hampton Bays and the game going into the fourth 0-0. The team broke through in the bottom of the fourth, a Pintauro walk, Hand bunt single, Gawronski single, a force out and a Kara Gengarelly single earning Pierson a 1-0 lead.
Stafford sustained that slim margin into the seventh, the Lady Whalers taking the field needing just three outs to secure second place in the standings and take the top Class C seed. Those lofty notions quickly came undone when the Lady Baymen suddenly banged out three hits. When the dust finally settled, Hampton Bays was up 4-1, Pierson learning a valuable lesson about playing under pressure, the game on the line.