On his return from selling pretzels in Montauk Sunday as part of a fund-raiser to help underwrite the East Hampton High School softball team’s trip next week to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Lou Reale said this season will be a challenge.
He’s got a pitcher — a very good one — in Casey Waleko, a junior who was named to the all-state team as an eighth grader — and he’s got a shortstop, Ali Harden, and a hard-hitting first baseman, Ilsa Brzezinski (who had three of the team’s four hits in a recent scrimmage at Center Moriches), but then things become somewhat problematic, owing in large part to the graduation last June of Kathryn Hess, a five-year starter who wound up behind the plate and is now playing at the University of Dayton, a Division 1 program, and of Deryn Hahn, a four-year starter at the hot corner.
As with baseball, there’s only one senior on the team, Courtney Dess, whom Reale has brought in from center field to play second base. Cecelia Fioriello, Hess’s backup last year, is catching, and Annie Schuppe, who sat out last season following knee surgery, is at third.
The outfielders include Shannon McCaffrey and Ellie Cassel, each of whom played last year, Lia Makrianes, who came off the bench, and Avery Balnis, one of two eighth graders on the squad, the other being Francesca Denaro.
“We’ve got four ninth graders too,” Reale said. “Emma Norris, who’s a catcher, Paloma Bahi, Veronica Whitney, and Ashley Lynch. Catherine Fleming’s also a ninth grader, but she won’t be playing because she hurt her shoulder playing basketball. And there’s a transfer from Alabama, Rebecca LeGrady, a junior outfielder. That should make 16 active players in all.”
There will be no junior varsity this year, an odd turn of events given the fact that in Reale’s tenure softball has been one of the school’s most successful programs.
Waleko had been throwing “better than she ever has” a few weeks ago, Reale said, when she hurt her back. Happily, following a battery of tests, which included an M.R.I. and a C.A.T. scan, she has been cleared to play, and — even more good news — Jessie Stavola, Reale’s all-state protégée, who has replaced Erin Abran as his assistant for this season, will coach her.
Waleko’s return — Randi Cherill, the school’s trainer, is rehabbing her — must have been greeted with a sigh of relief on Reale’s part, for Harden was about to step in, which would have filled that gap but would have at the same time raised the question as to who would play short.
A lights-out pitcher can carry a team in high school softball. “Rocky Point’s pitcher carried them last year,” said Reale. “But this year every team has a terrific pitcher. . . . It’s definitely going to be interesting, especially with all these young kids. They’re working hard though. They’re getting better defensively. They’re definitely improving. Avery hit a couple of homers off me in batting practice yesterday, which was a pleasant surprise.”
Southampton was to have scrimmaged here yesterday. The Bonackers are to scrimmage at Hampton Bays tomorrow. The regular season is to begin Monday at Rocky Point.
The team is to leave for Florida Wednesday. “Usually, we stay down there for 10 to 11 days, but, because of the hurricane and the school time that was missed, we’ll be staying five days. We’ll have five scrimmages, with teams from Ohio, New Jersey, and one of the Carolinas . . . South Carolina, I think.”
Next Thursday, because it is the 10th time an East Hampton softball team has trained at Disney World during spring break, “we’ve been given tickets to the Atlanta Braves-Washington Nationals game. The Braves train right there. The girls walk by their batting cages on their way to our field. I think, because it’s our 10th year, they’ll be called out onto the field.”