Lauren Gurney, 17, a junior at Shelter Island High School, decided earlier this spring that she would travel to play the game she loves. She joined the Pierson varsity softball team and one of her most important accomplishments — at least for her dad Dave Gurney’s sake — was getting a driver’s license a few weeks back.
“At the beginning of the season, my dad would drive me over for practices and most of them were at 3 o’clock, so I had to race out of my school in order to get to practice on time,” said Gurney, who was thrust into the position of starting pitcher for the Lady Whalers. “At the end of April, I finally got my license so I have been driving myself over since then. For away games, I drive myself to Pierson and then hop on the bus.”
The Lady Whalers took a bus to Center Moriches for their final regular season game of the season on May 8 and nearly upset one of the best teams in League VI. With Gurney tossing one of her best games of the season, Pierson lost, 2-1, on a walk-off infield single in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The Lady Whalers had no seniors in the lineup this season so much of the effort has been aimed at improving for next year, when Gurney and a talented junior class return for their senior seasons. Pierson finished with a 4-10 record and will not compete in the playoffs.
“We finished strong, we played well against Mattituck both times, we played well against Center Moriches both times, but we had trouble scoring,” said Pierson head coach Woody Kneeland, who has pledged to rebuild a program that once made routine trips to the state semifinals. “Our defense really came alive toward the end of the season and our pitching came alive, so it’s all about building off of that.”
Gurney fit in right from the start, her coach said, despite being the only player from Shelter Island commuting to play softball. Shelter Island does have a junior varsity team, but no other players have had the same level of commitment as Gurney, who played travel softball last year for the Long Island Express.
“My experience at Pierson has been amazing,” Gurney said as the season came to a close this week. “The coaches are amazing as well as my teammates. At first, it was a little strange being the only one playing from a different school, but the girls on the team really took me in.”
Aside from a nagging groin injury that set her back a couple games, Gurney was a key addition to a team with no seniors in the lineup but a solid group of juniors including Sam Cox, Kathryn Powell and Halle Kneeland. Pierson also has promising underclassman like Brooke Esposito, Sofia Mancino and Meredith Spolarich, among others, so the future looks bright.
Since there are no other Class C teams like Pierson on Long Island, Kneeland said the Lady Whalers would have advanced straight to a state regional final in the second week of June. After consulting with Pierson athletic director Eric Bramoff and a representative from Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body of high school athletics, the decision was made to bring the season to an end.
“We did show promise, we were worthy of consideration, but this team ultimately has a lot to prove next year and that’s what we’re going to move on to,” the coach said.
As for Gurney, who Kneeland said was “lights out” against Center Moriches last week, her senior season and the hopes of a program looking for a return to prominence, are, at this point, intertwined.
“She’s the only one coming over from Shelter Island and had to walk into a whole group of Pierson kids and it worked out great,” said Kneeland. “She’s really been great.”
“I’m looking forward to pitching again next year,” added Gurney, who said she would like to play softball in college. “I believe we can make it far in playoffs next year as long as everyone works hard and stays motivated.”