Wonderful to tell, because of a thrilling 1-0 upset of Islip Friday — a win sandwiched between lopsided losses to Mount Sinai and Rocky Point — the East Hampton High School softball team was still in playoff contention as of Monday, with a 6-10 record in league play. However, its coach, Lou Reale, said it would have to win out to get a berth.
It is certainly possible, he added, given the fact that the very young team’s remaining opponents were bottom-tier ones: Shoreham-Wading River, Harborfields, Bayport-Blue Point (which, at 10-6, was the best of the bunch record-wise), and winless Elwood-John Glenn.
East Hampton beat John Glenn 10-7 on April 28 as Dylan Schleider, one of a number of freshmen on Reale’s team, went all the way on the mound for her first varsity win.
Only three of Glenn’s runs were earned, the coach said, adding that Schleider gave up six hits and struck out five. “She did a good job — her pitches were over the plate, she had a good changeup, and changed speeds well.”
An eight-run fourth during which Avery Balnis and Shannen McCaffrey tripled and Schleider doubled, blew it open, said the coach.
Maddie Schenck, the eighth grader who catches, continued to do well at the plate, with three hits and three runs driven in. Casey Waleko, who sat out most of the game, came in in the seventh, striking out the three batters to face her on nine pitches.
There wasn’t much to say about the 11-0 loss to Mount Sinai and the 13-1 loss to Rocky Point, a game from which a number of Reale’s players, including Waleko, were missing, but the 1-0 win at Islip Friday was East Hampton’s best game of the season.
With a 12-5 record, Islip was in fifth place as of Monday, but just two games out of first, behind 14-3 Sayville, 13-3 Rocky Point, 13-4 Mount Sinai, and 11-4 Miller Place.
The leadoff hitter in the bottom of the first inning doubled off Waleko, who started that day. It didn’t augur well, but then Balnis, a ninth grader who plays second base for East Hampton, dove flat-out to stop a drive for the hole, and, from a kneeling position, threw the runner out at first.
The runner on second advanced to third on the play, but a popout to Ali Harned, East Hampton’s senior shortstop, and another 4-3 groundout took the home team out of the inning.
Schenck grounded out to lead off East Hampton’s second, but Balnis and McCaffrey followed with singles. They were stranded there, however, as Emma Norris popped up a bunt attempt, and Isabella Swanson, the eighth grader who plays right field, flied out to center.
It remained scoreless, Reale said, until the top of the fourth. Ilsa Brzezinski, the senior first baseman, led off with a base hit, after which Schenck, who was batting fifth that day, lined a double over the right fielder’s head, which sent Brzezinski to third.
With runners at second and third and no outs, Balnis hit a long fly ball to left, a sacrifice fly that scored Brzezinski with what proved to be the game-winner.
East Hampton kept the lid down thereafter. McCaffrey, the senior left fielder, and Alex Rutkowski, the freshman center fielder, made nice catches of hard-hit drives in the bottom of the fourth.
Islip again got a leadoff double in the bottom of the sixth. A subsequent steal put her on third, with no outs. But Waleko got out of it with a flyout to left, an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left-center by Harned, and a third-to-first groundout.
In the seventh Balnis came up big again when she speared a leadoff line drive that otherwise would have been “a double or a triple,” Reale said. She recorded the second out too, gathering in a soft fly. A nice running catch along the right field line by Swanson clinched the big win.
“It was a great game,” said Reale. “We didn’t make one error, for the first time all year. Casey struck out four and we made the plays. It didn’t look good with those leadoff doubles, but, as I said, we made the plays, and got the hit when we needed it, and it held up.”
Islip defeated East Hampton 8-1 the first time the teams met, on April 10.
“And we still have a chance to make the playoffs,” Reale added, as if it were a minor miracle. “Though we’ll have to win all four of our remaining games. We’ve beaten three of the teams we’re finishing up with, and we only lost 2-0 to Bayport the first time around.”
The coach was not only buoyed by the playoff prospects, but also by the strong turnouts at his recent Sunday clinics for Little Leaguers. “There are some really good players in the sixth and seventh grade,” he said, “and the parents are into it.”