For Lady Whalers, Long Season is Grinding to a Close

Kathryn Powell attempts to make a play at the plate during Pierson's loss to Shoreham Wading River on Tuesday. Michael Heller photos

A lopsided 16-1 loss to Shoreham Wading River on Tuesday could serve as a microcosm of the Pierson/Bridgehampton softball season. Competing against a much larger school in the oddly revamped 24-team League VII, the Lady Whalers fell behind early behind a flurry of errors and walks that led to 10 first-inning runs for the visiting Lady Wildcats at Mashashimuet Park.

But a general lack of focus and intensity in the early going might point to issues having nothing to do with the opponent. Pierson has eight seniors and most participate in the school’s International Baccalaureate program, or IB, which is challenging to say the least, with testing ongoing through May.

Pierson’s starting catcher, Leigh Hatfield, is this year’s valedictorian. She and seven other seniors — Isabella DiRussa, Shannon Sloane, Cassie Arbia, Annabelle Schroeder, Ava Kiss, Eleanore Byrne and Jade Maldonado from Bridgehampton — celebrated senior day before their game against Port Jefferson on Wednesday.

“They challenge themselves, and they want to succeed in every single thing they do,” Pierson softball coach Woody Kneeland said Wednesday morning. “And I commend them for that. We want them to strive to be successful in everything, but at some point, you have to narrow it down.

“Yesterday they were mentally wiped out,” he added. “I could just tell. They were exhausted when they got to the game. With the IB testing, last week and this week is the worst of all. I have four games this week and it’s the worst week for testing.”

Brooke Esposito and Shannon Sloane listen as softball coach Woody Kneeland talks during a break in the action on Tuesday.

Of the 10 runs Shoreham scored in the first inning on Monday, just one was earned off sophomore pitcher Kathryn Powell, who has thrown a lot of innings during her first season as the team’s primary pitcher. Powell walked six in the first inning and missed connecting with Hatfield behind the plate a number of times, which led to several runs scored.

That said, the experience Powell has earned this year, and with her sophomore class stacked with potential talent, Kneeland is hopeful about the future. Pierson, at 1-13, will not compete in the playoffs this season and will close out the year with road games at Miller Place on Thursday, May 10, and at Islip on Friday, May 11. Both games start at 4:30 p.m. Miller Place is 12-3 and Islip is 10-6, and like Shoreham, both are Class A schools while Pierson is Class C.

“This year the softball schedule was a murderers’ row,” Pierson athletic director Eric Bramoff said. “I will do everything in my power to try to achieve fair and equitable competition, and right now it’s not fair and equitable.”

Samantha Cox pitched the closing innings on Tuesday.

Bramoff said he would attend meetings through Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body of athletics, in the coming weeks and months to determine whether softball will return to a more traditional set-up with small schools together in a lower league, an issue made more complicated by the loss of Mercy, which is closing its school, and Stony Brook, which is leaving Section XI competition.

In the meantime, Bramoff addressed the rigors of the academic program, and IB in particular, by saying the athletic program will have to continue to adapt. According to Michael Guinan, the Pierson High School assistant principal who coordinates the IB program, 85 of the 136 students enrolled in 11thand 12thgrade take at least one IB class. And of that 85, 43 are IB diploma students.

“We can’t negotiate anything about the tests,” Bramoff said, adding that he often juggles schedules not just in softball, but in other sports like baseball and tennis, where kids are also coming down to the wire in their IB journey. “Athletics is an extension of the classroom. The one good thing about being small is we can almost deal with things on a case-by-case basis.”

Bramoff is also the school’s wellness director and expressed a desire to develop programming that would including athletics and can help students deal with the pressures from their academic and social pursuits.

“For the two-and-a-half hours you’re playing sports, you have to turn the rest of the world off,” he said. “That’s part of the educational process, time management and the ability to manage your attention span. We want to create the highest amount of rigor as possible, and we’re achieving that, but we always have to be mindful of the students.”

Baseball Wins League Title

The Pierson baseball team won three straight games against Stony Brook last week to improve its League IX-leading record to 15-2. The Whalers then clinched the league title with a win over Port Jefferson on Tuesday.

The Whalers have had strong starting pitching most of the season and last week was no different. After opening the Stony Brook series with a pair of wins, Pierce Summers won game three, 8-3, on Thursday, May 3, behind a strong offensive performance.

Pierson played at Port Jefferson at home on Wednesday after press time. The final regular-season game of the season is scheduled for Friday, May 11, at Port Jeff at 4:30 p.m.

The Class C playoffs are tentatively scheduled to begin on Monday, May 21.