Adversity, ups and downs, unexpected setbacks—the Pierson softball team experienced it all this season. But by the end of the day on Thursday, the Lady Whalers were smiling and cheering as they took a victory lap through Sag Harbor Village, perched in the beds of several trucks, after winning the Suffolk County Class C championship for the second year in a row.
The Lady Whalers won the title by beating Port Jefferson 6-3 in the final game of a three-game series. Pierson played the title game with only four of its usual starters in their usual positions, and had a trio of eighth-graders playing the outfield, but managed to get past the Lady Royals, who had won the first game of the series, making the next two must-wins for Pierson.
The win advanced Pierson to the Class C regional final, which was slated for Wednesday, June 5. (No Class C teams in Nassau County qualified for the playoffs).
Pierson was scheduled to play on Wednesday, June 5, in the regional final against the winner of the Haldane (Section I) vs. Chester (Section IX) game, that took place on Tuesday, June 4. The time and location for that game had not been determined as of Press time. A spot in the New York State Final Four was on the line in that game.
Throughout the regular season, the Lady Whalers were head and shoulders above Port Jefferson in terms of talent. In fact, the Lady Royals didn’t even qualify for the playoffs initially, because they finished with a below-.500 record in league play. (Pierson was the only Class C school in Suffolk County with a winning record.) But because Leagues VII and VIII include both Class B and C teams, Port Jeff was granted a spot in the playoffs via petition, setting up the county championship series.
What would have probably been a dominant showing in the series by Pierson became a nailbiter when the Lady Whalers experienced a flurry of injuries, illness and other issues that forced head coach Melissa Edwards to move players to new positions and pull younger players off the bench. Catcher Emma Romeo, who also happens to be one of the best hitters on the team, was forced to the sidelines with mono for the entire series. Julia Schiavoni, who typically plays at third, was moved to the catcher position, and her sister Meg Schiavoni took over at third. Usual outfielders Taylor Cox (bronchitis) and Erika Selyukova were also sidelined. Selyukova played in the first two games but sprained her ankle while sliding in the second game, which knocked her out for the final game. Edwards was forced to go with eighth-graders Alyssa Kneeland, Isabel Peters and Ali Cafiero in the outfield, who had minimal varsity experience. First baseman Charlotte Evans—also an eighth-grader—shortstop Kasey Gilbride, second baseman Sabrina Baum and pitcher Sam Duchemin were the only players in their usual positions for the championship-clinching win.
Despite all the shuffling and changes, however, the Lady Whalers got the job done.
“At the end of the day, my kids stepped up,” Edwards said. “Especially the eighth-graders. We made it work somehow.”
And while she had a lot of youth and inexperience on the field, Edwards said she didn’t panic, even after her team lost the first game, 2-1. The game began on Tuesday, May 28, in the rain in Sag Harbor, and the teams played to a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning before the game was suspended. They resumed play the following day at Port Jefferson, and the second game began immediately after the conclusion of the first. Pierson staved off elimination with a 6-1 win in that contest.
“I never once felt nervous or felt like we might not win this,” Edwards said. “I knew the whole time that we’d still beat Port Jeff.”
Edwards said her confidence came primarily from the four solid starters she did have on the field—Gilbride, Baum, Duchemin and Evans.
“Lotti has really been hitting the ball, Sam’s been great, Kasey is just one of those phenomenal athletes who can put a whole team on her back, and Sabrina has one of the best gloves as a second baseman,” Edwards said. “The kids I needed to be solid were.”
Pierson didn’t waste much time getting on the board in the decisive game. Gilbride plated the first run of the game in the first inning, scoring Baum with a double. Duchemin followed with an RBI single and Meg Schiavoni had an RBI single after that to put the Lady Whalers up 3-0. In the second inning, Gilbride had another RBI single to make it 4-0.
Port Jeff rallied in the third to pull within one run. The Lady Royals made it 4-2 with only one out and a runner on second. Gilbride made the second out to limit the threat, but Port Jeff’s Melissa Darling followed with a two-out RBI single to make it 4-3 before Pierson got out of the inning.
The Lady Whalers added two insurance runs in the fourth on a Gilbride two-run double. Port Jeff did not threaten in the final three innings.
First Two Games
The series got off to an unorthodox start when the first game began in Sag Harbor before being suspended. It was resumed in Port Jefferson. Port Jeff’s Danielle Grier hit a single with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh to score Shannon Fee, and Pierson couldn’t answer in the bottom of the inning, giving the Royals the win.
Port Jeff was the first team to strike on May 28. Riley Lim-Ellis hit a solid line-drive single to centerfield for the first hit of the game off Duchemin in the top of the fourth inning. After a wild pitch and a passed ball, Lim-Ellis wound up on third base. Eventually, Morgan Sakovich hit a line drive over a leaping Gilbride at shortstop to drive in Lim-Ellis. The Lady Royals held the lead through a steady rain until the bottom of the sixth inning. With one out, Duchemin singled up the middle. Then Julia Schiavoni was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game to put runners on first and second. Meg Schiavoni then bunted to advance both players, but the Port Jefferson third baseman threw the ball wide of first base and Duchemin came around to tie the game at 1-1. With runners on first and third base, Isabel Peters hit a ball deep to right field, but the pinch runner that was in for Julia Schiavoni at third base did not tag up.
The following Pierson batter struck out with the go-ahead run on third base and then the umpires convened with both coaches and decided to suspend the game.
The Lady Whalers showed some resiliency in game two. Just 15 minutes after game one ended, Duchemin hit a two-run triple to deep left field in the top of the first inning to give her team an early 2-0 lead. Duchemin was brought home on a hard hit ground-out to the shortstop by Julia Schiavoni. Port Jeff tacked on a run in the bottom of the first.
Pierson padded its lead, scoring single runs in the second, third and sixth innings. Gilbride and Evans both finished the game 2 for 4 with a run scored. Peters went 2 for 3 with a double and a run and Duchemin finished 2 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs. She also pitched the entire game and only allowed one unearned run on two hits.