Melissa Edwards, who coaches Pierson (Sag Harbor) High School’s softball team, thought when the season began that this would be a rebuilding year, but, lo, her overachievers proved her wrong, to her delight.
The Whalers, whose anchors are Kasey Gilbride, the line-drive hitting shortstop, and Samma Duchemin, the pitcher, clinched the county Class C championship at home last Thursday by defeating their perennial rival, Port Jefferson, 6-3.
Port Jeff had won game one of the best-of-three championship series, but that proved to be a blip inasmuch as the Whalers, who had defeated the Royals 7-0 and 8-4 during the regular season, won the last two contests decisively, and this despite the fact the team’s starting catcher — and second-best player — Emma Romeo had been sidelined by an illness.
In the finale, the visitors tested Romeo’s backup, Julia Schiavoni, but she proved up to the task, as did Edwards’s all-eighth-grade outfield of Isabel Peters, Cali Cafiero, and Alyssa Kneeland. Lottie Evans, the first baseman, is also an eighth grader.
Offensively, Gilbride, who went 3-for-3, was the star, driving in two runs with scorching doubles in the first and fourth innings. She also laced a hard single in the second.
Asked later if she knew what her batting average was, Gilbride, whose mechanics are picture perfect — or at least they were that day — demurred. “I’d guess .875,” said her questioner.
Duchemin retired the visitors in order to get the game, which drew a large crowd — including Pierson’s baseball team, which had won a county championship the day before — going.
A one-out error by Port Jeff’s second baseman enabled Sabrina Baum to reach first base safely in the bottom half, after which Gilbride, who hits third in the lineup, lined a run-scoring double into the gap in left-center. Duchemin promptly drove in Gilbride with a base hit, and, after Julia Schiavoni grounded out second-to-first, Meg Schiavoni drove in Duchemin, who had been on second, with a single. Peters grounded out pitcher-to-first to end the inning, but the Whalers were up 3-0.
Morgan Sakovich doubled to lead off Port Jeff’s second at-bat, but a subsequent popout and two groundouts stranded her at second.
Pierson made it 4-0 in the bottom half of the inning. Kneeland led it off with a double and went to third on an overthrow. After Cafiero struck out, Evans drove in Kneeland with a single. Baum forced her at second, the inning’s second out, but Gilbride kept the inning alive by singling over third, after which she drew an errant pickoff throw that enabled Baum to go to third and Gilbride to move up to second. They were stranded there, however, as Duchemin fanned.
With things going smoothly, it seemed the right time to ask when and where the Whalers would play next should they win. Wednesday was the reply, though where the regional final would be played and against whom was not known yet.
The Royals may have been listening, for they rallied for three runs in their third, effectively erasing any forgone conclusions.
Two bunt singles and a sacrifice bunt put Port Jeff runners at second and third with one out, and a subsequent hit drove them in. One out later, a pop single to shallow right plated the Royals’ third run, after which Duchemin gave up a walk. With runners at the corners, a soft lineout to Gilbride stopped the bleeding.
Pierson plated two insurance runs in its fourth. Peters led off with a single, and went to second on a 5-3 groundout. Cafiero popped out to second for out number two, but Evans reached safely by way of an infield single that scored Peters, after which Gilbride came through again, roping a double into the outfield that scored Peters with Pierson’s sixth — and what proved to be final — run. Duchemin’s popout to second ended the frame.
The visitors had a runner at second base with one out in the top of the fifth, but didn’t score. Duchemin and her teammates set the Royals down in order in the sixth and seventh to seal the victory, one that, apparently because of their earlier success with Port Jeff, didn’t end with a pile-on at the mound.
Because there are no Class C softball teams in Nassau, a Long Island championship game was rendered moot.
Edwards’s charges were to have played yesterday — either in Westchester or in upper Westchester, according to Section XI’s softball chairman, Jim Wright — in a state regional final. A win in that game would have advanced them — for the second year in a row — to the Final Four, in Queensbury, outside of Glens Falls.