It’s hard to say just how competitive the Mattituck High School softball team will be this year, and the reason for that is rather simple: It will all come down to pitching.
And therein lies the question mark.
A softball pitcher may have more influence on a game than any other position in any sport. That is why the graduation of Lisa Angell, who had been Mattituck’s pitcher for the past two years, has left the Tuckers (6-10 last year) in a state of uncertainty over how that aspect of their game will be handled.
That is Priority No. 1 now for Kim Gerstung, a familiar face who takes over as the head coach. Gerstung has been involved in the program every year since 1998 as a junior high school, junior varsity or varsity coach. She ran the varsity Tuckers in 2007 and 2008, going 14-22 during that time.
Now Gerstung’s first order of business is figuring out who will handle the pitching. She has three righthanders to look at in junior Grace Izzo, sophomore Madison Osler and freshman Alexis Burns.
Osler has pitched a little at both levels. Izzo pitched some for the junior varsity team two years ago, but has no varsity pitching experience. Burns has no pitching experience at either level.
Regardless, Gerstung has expressed confidence in all of them, saying, “I think they have the potential to get the job done.” She added: “The kids that are pitching, they’re putting their effort in, they’re trying. That’s all you can ask for.”
On the plus side, Mattituck has nine returning players who were regular starters or spent some time as starters. Among them is freshman first baseman Ashley Perkins, who put up a .385 batting average and drove in six runs despite missing half the season because of wrist surgery.
Another freshman, infielder Jaden Thompson, carried a .375 average to go with 12 runs batted in and eight stolen bases.
A pair of all-league players are back in sophomore shortstop Ashley Chew (.313, five RBI) and senior catcher Rachel Voegel.
Outfielders Jaime Gaffga and Katerina Hatzinikolaou also started some games last year. Two other outfielders, Ceci Stevens and Kim Corso, return as well.
Among Gerstung’s early impressions is that the hitting has looked good, but she also knows what’s going to make the big difference.
She said, “It’s all going to revolve around pitching.”
Jessica Fleury played on winning Eastport/South Manor softball teams when she was in high school. As a player, she never experienced anything like the 1-15 season that Southold/Greenport endured last year. Now the Clippers hope some of Fleury’s winning past will rub off on them as their new coach.
Fleury, who had previously coached the Westhampton Beach Middle School team, welcomes the challenge that comes with her first varsity job.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “I like being able to work and build a program.”
A big part of that building will feature sophomore pitcher Ashley Hilary, junior centerfielder Toni Esposito, junior shortstop Katie Tuthill and senior catcher Rosemary Volinski.
Also among the projected starters are senior second baseman Paige Messana, junior first baseman Evelyn Cummings and sophomore third baseman Hannah Sutton, who has been brought up from the junior varsity team.
“I heard that they went 1 and 15 last year, but what I saw in practice surprised me a lot,” said Fleury, who noted that the Clippers’ fielding has looked good in the early practices, but their hitting needs work. “Basically, they have to be more confident in themselves,” she said.
Confidence can be hard to come by following a one-win season. The Clippers struggled to a 1-15 record last year for the second time in four years, bookending a pair of 5-11 campaigns.
Winning hasn’t come easily to the Clippers, and it appears as if they will need much more than a quick fix. Their last winning season was in 1996, and they haven’t reached the playoffs since 1997. Over the past 18 years, the team has gone 77-255-1 (.231).
Fleury would obviously like to make a dent in that win column.
“I would love for them to win more than one, obviously,” she said. “I want them to be happy with their season, not come out disappointed.”
Photo caption: Mattituck first baseman Ashley Perkins had a .385 batting average and drove in six runs last year despite missing half the season because of wrist surgery. (Credit: Garret Meade)