Growing pains often lead to better times once the right mix of chemistry, leadership and old-fashioned hard work are added to the equation. At least that’s how Pierson softball coach Woody Kneeland is approaching the season ahead as his team continues to grind through a challenging league schedule.
Led by players from the junior class and with an athletic batch of talent following from behind, the Lady Whalers are looking to find their way past some of the top Class B teams in Suffolk County.
Babylon and Hampton Bays — both with traditionally strong softball programs — motored past the Lady Whalers so far this season but the games, at times, were competitive, giving hope to the Pierson faithful.
Sparked by the base running of speedy centerfielder Brooke Esposito, the Lady Whaler surged in the second inning against Hampton Bays on Friday to take a 3-2 lead. They kept things close until the wheels came off in the sixth and seventh innings, where Pierson gave up 11 runs in a 16-4 loss.
Despite the lopsided result, Kneeland says something special is blooming at Mashashimuet Park this spring.
“When it comes down to this League VI, we have fast and athletic kids. We can compete,” Kneeland said. “There is a good, positive energy around this team.”
Junior Kathryn Powell was the starting pitcher for Pierson on Friday and kept the game close into the bottom of the fifth inning, where the Lady Whalers pulled within a run before Hampton Bays pitcher Emily Peyton escaped by inducing a bases-loaded double play. That led to wave of momentum as the Lady Baymen scored five runs in the sixth inning, and seven more in the seventh to pull away.
“Kathryn pitched really well, I thought,” Kneeland said later. “She ran out of gas. We’re teaching her a whole new approach to pitching. Last year she threw two pitches, now she’s throwing four.”
In terms of pitching, Pierson will benefit from the return of Shelter Island junior Lauren Gurney, a travel player who missed the team’s first two games because of college visits. Kneeland explained on Monday that Pierson wasn’t originally scheduled to start games so early, which is why Gurney scheduled her trips in the first place. When she returns, Kneeland expects Gurney to be the regular starting pitcher.
“We need a chance, that’s all. The pitchers have to give us a chance to stay in it and the defense has to follow through with that,” Kneeland said.
Pierson was on the road playing Hampton Bays again on Tuesday and then played at Port Jefferson on Wednesday after press time. The Lady Whalers will run up against Babylon — again — on Friday, April 5, at 4:30 p.m.
Kneeland, for one, is looking forward to the challenges.
“We’re taking some approaches to the game that we haven’t done in years around here. We’re learning a hundred things a day just to catch up, but they’re getting it.
“I’m really excited about the way they’ve been coming to practice,” he added. “There’s no attitude problems on this team, there’s no chemistry problems. The kids are really having fun and I’m hoping it all comes together soon.”