With 24 teams doing battle in this oddly restructured League VII softball season, the Pierson/Bridgehampton Lady Whalers, at least, have two young pitchers they can rely on.
Pierson has been working its way through a murderous early schedule beset by poor weather and a decision this year to place every Class A, B and C team from Suffolk County in a single league of competition.
As of Tuesday, Pierson had played three Class A teams in Elwood/John Glenn, Kings Park and Harborfields. Prior to Tuesday’s 7-4 loss to Harborfields, which was called as an official game after four-and-a-half innings, Pierson had been held scoreless in losses to Hampton Bays, Southampton and Kings Park while giving up an average of 16 runs per game.
Tuesday’s contest was close from the start. Kathryn Powell, Pierson’s sophomore starting pitcher, gave up three runs in the first inning after an hour delay that was caused by the visiting bus getting stuck in traffic caused by an accident on the Long Island Expressway. Pierson bounced back in the bottom of the first inning with Powell, Sam Cox, Shannon Sloane and Leigh Hatfield scoring runs to take a 4-3 lead.
Harborfields took back the lead, but with the top of Pierson’s lineup scheduled to be up in the bottom of the fifth inning, the umpires called the game because of darkness.
“The first thing the coaches are saying to me when they get off the bus is ‘Where do you guys live?’” a clearly frustrated Pierson head coach John “Woody” Kneeland said after Tuesday’s game. “Well, welcome to my world. We already drive an hour-and-a-half to play Port Jefferson, and now you’re going to add Amityville and all these teams on the edge of Nassau County, and we’re going to travel even farther?”
Moving forward the schedule was set to lighten a bit, although the travel remained. The Lady Whalers played at winless Amityville on Wednesday, and will host local rival East Hampton on Friday, April 13, at 4 p.m. in Mashashimuet Park.
Playing other local schools like East Hampton, Southampton and Hampton Bays is one of a few perks of an otherwise bumpy schedule that also includes games against teams like Sayville, Rocky Point, Bayport/Blue Point, Hauppauge, Westhampton Beach, Miller Place and Islip, all much larger schools that were never traditionally part of what used to be a League VIII schedule.
Pierson’s first game against a familiar opponent comes on Monday, April 16, at Babylon, which is currently undefeated.
“There is no rhythm to this season, so we’re creating our own,” Kneeland said. “I try to focus with the girls that the wins and losses don’t mean anything until we play the other Class C schools. We just have to get better as a team. And not just for this year. We have a young team. Pitching is what softball is all about, and our pitchers are sophomores.”
Powell, who worked in the offseason with legendary East Hampton hurler Jessie Stavola, has been handling the bulk of the pitching load this season, but Cox is also ready and able when called upon, Kneeland said.
“Kathryn is way above where she was last year,” Kneeland said. “She knows what she has to do to throw strikes, and if she loses it for a minute, she gets it back. She’s probably about 50 percent of where she’s going to get to by the time she’s a senior.”
“I definitely feel a big improvement,” Powell agreed. “I feel a lot more confident. I do have a lot to work on, but overall I’ve improved a lot.”
Cox concentrates more on volleyball in the offseason but was scheduled to start against Amityville and is ready to go when Powell needs a rest or doesn’t have her best stuff. Cox also is the team’s number-two hitter, frequently providing a spark on the offensive side.
“I think it’s really good exposure to play a lot of different positions because you never know when someone is going to be out, and you will have to fill in for them,” said Cox, who played Tuesday’s game in left field.
As for the tough start to the season, which has left Pierson with an 0-5 record, the team’s sophomore hurlers both agreed that the future is brighter than it might seem during these gloomy early days of spring.
“I think it’s good for us to start with these hard teams, because as the season moves on and we play teams closer to us, I think we’ll be a lot more confident,” Powell said.
“We’re such a small school, and instead of having tryouts, we have to ask people to play,” Cox explained about the dynamic at Pierson. “But we’re all really close and I think we’re all leaders.”