The player who had the greatest impact on the game wasn’t even there.
Southold/Greenport’s first-string pitcher, Ashley Hilary, was in Europe on a class trip along with a couple of teammates, catcher Rosemary Volinski and backup pitcher Hannah Sutton.
That proved to be a serious problem for the Clippers on Tuesday.
Aided by 17 walks and an assortment of wild pitches and passed balls, Mattituck coasted to a 17-4 Suffolk County League VII softball win on its home field. The game was stopped in the fifth inning because of the mercy rule.
A softball pitcher plays what may be the most dominant position in team sports. That was underscored as Southold was forced to rely on Toni Esposito and Elizabeth Clark to handle their pitching.
Esposito gave up five runs and four hits through the first three innings before her arm started bothering her and Clark relieved her. But Clark had control problems and didn’t record an out before Esposito was pulled back from her usual center-field position to pitch the remainder of the game. She struggled, too.
Mattituck (6-8, 6-8) put up 12 runs in the fourth to break open what had been a 5-4 lead in its favor. The Tuckers had only one hit that inning, but didn’t need more thanks to 13 walks in the frame.
Call it a lesson on the importance of pitching.
“It’s really the whole game,” said Southold first baseman Evelyn Cummings.
Mattituck coach Kim Gerstung knows full well. She can sympathize with what the Clippers went through.
“It’s everything,” she said of pitching, “and that’s the reason why we lost some of our games, because we didn’t have pitching.”
Despite the one-sided score, Mattituck was outhit, 8-5. One of those hits, though, was Alexis Burns’ first career home run and Mattituck’s first homer of the season. The freshman shortstop led off the third by crushing a ball over the center-field fence, much to the surprise of her coach and teammates. Burns is a good hitter, Gerstung explained, but not one known for power.
“They were surprised that I actually got it over the fence,” said Burns, who also walked three times and scored four runs.
So, when Burns crossed home plate, she wore a big smile on her face as she was greeted by happy teammates.
“I would have a big smile on my face, too, if it was me,” said Gerstung.
Jaime Gaffga had two hits (including a double) for Mattituck, with three runs scored, two stolen bases and a walk. Jaden Thompson stole three bases and Madison Osler knocked in two runs for the Tuckers. As a pitcher, Osler walked two batters and struck out two.
The loss aside, this has been one of Southold’s better seasons in recent years. The Clippers (5-9, 5-9), who went 1-15 last year, last reached the playoffs 19 years ago under Tom McGunnigle. Still, they have no margin for error, needing to win their remaining six games to gain entry into the playoffs. Further complicating matters, they will be without Hilary, Volinski and Sutton for the next two games.
Cummings said the Clippers would like to reach the playoffs to honor the memory of their late assistant coach, Phil Reed, who died this past winter. “We definitely want to do it for him,” she said.
The playoffs are a long shot for Mattituck, too. The Tuckers need to win five of their last six games in order to see the postseason.
This is a rebuilding season for Mattituck, which will lose only one key position to graduation this year when senior catcher Rachel Voegel moves on.
“My team’s been doing great,” Gerstung said. “We lost some that we shouldn’t have, but they don’t put their heads down. They keep their heads up and they keep battling.”
Photo caption: Sam Baldwin slides home safe for a Southold/Greenport run in the fourth inning while Mattituck catcher Jaime Gaffga looks for the ball. (Credit: Garret Meade)