It was a demoralizing 2018 campaign for the Pierson/Bridgehampton softball team as it stumbled through a grueling 24-team League VII schedule, which included some of the largest schools in Suffolk County, before finishing with just two wins and missing out on the postseason.
The Lady Whalers are welcoming a return to normalcy this season, but still will be the only Class C softball team in the county, competing in League VI against Class B schools Babylon, Hampton Bays, Center Moriches, Southampton, Port Jefferson, Southold/Greenport and Mattituck.
Head coach Woody Kneeland is looking forward to the competition and said his team, while young, should be ready.
“There’s obviously a huge difference between the large and small schools,” Kneeland said about the change in league structure. “We just don’t have that pool to pull from. Even in the B’s they’re telling me how many kids they have to cut. We’re asking kids to come out. I’m trying to build a program and really want to have a junior high, a JV and a varsity.”
Leading the varsity team is a trio of juniors who started on the team last year, as well as a surprise addition from Shelter Island who could become the regular starting pitcher. Sam Cox, Kathryn Powell and Halle Kneeland, the coach’s daughter, are sure-fire starters, with Powell having pitched most of last season. The addition of Lauren Gurney from Shelter Island, however, has made the situation more competitive.
“She’s a pitcher and she’s pretty good,” Kneeland said about Gurney, who has played travel softball. “She’s a strong pitcher and hitter and can also play first base and centerfield. She’s a nice addition.”
Powell is also a strong hitter and can play first base when she’s not pitching. Cox is expected to start at third base and Kneeland at shortstop. Second base is still up in the air, coach Kneeland said, while freshman Sofia Mancino, already a standout varsity athlete in volleyball and basketball, is expected to be the team’s starting catcher.
In the outfield, sophomore Brooke Esposito is looking to hold down the starting job in centerfield, while juniors Grace Gawronski and Hannah Kirwin are early favorites to play in left and right.
Daniella Lajarza is the only senior on the team and is in her first year playing softball.
“We’re still very young,” Kneeland said. “We’re still too young to declare anyone the all-time player at a position. The only way I can push these juniors is to keep the door open for those younger kids to step in.”
Other juniors on the roster include Heidi Bucking, Haley Ferraris, Katie Annicelli and Mahlia Hemby, who is working as the backup catcher. Kneeland said younger players like Meredith Spolarich, Ashley Weatherwax, Micky Wilson and Eve Lulo could also work their way onto the varsity roster.
“There’s some kids on the JV team who are going to be pushing for spots,” Kneeland said. “It’s all about trying to get better. Obviously I want to win, but my ultimate goal is that every pitch we have to get better, every inning get better, every game get better, every year get better.”
Pierson will open the season at Babylon on March 27 at 4:30 p.m. and will play its first home game at Mashashimuet Park on March 29 against Hampton Bays at 4 p.m.