Quantity can lead to quality in high school softball. The more players a coach has to choose from, the better a team’s chances for winning. Large numbers can produce a big number in the win column.
Numbers are what coach Lori Marra saw when she walked into the Southold High School gym last week for Southold/Greenport’s first practice. Over 30 players had gathered. The turnout surprised Marra and some of the players themselves.
Where did all these players come from?
“There was a lot of people I don’t know,” senior right fielder Willow Sutton said. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m happy that it’s happening.”
Stephanie Clark, a senior first baseman, said, “Softball is a fun sport … so I think once one of their friends start to play, a lot of them want to tag along and just have fun and play the game.”
By last Thursday’s practice, the Clippers (5-11 last year) had about 36 players, according to Marra, who wasn’t complaining.
“It’s like the exact opposite of what’s happening across the island,” she said, referring to a downward trend in player numbers at other schools.
Last year the Clippers had some 26 players on their varsity and junior varsity teams.
There is great benefit to having more bodies around. More players mean more competition for positions. More players mean greater depth on the bench. More players can mean more flexibility for Marra in writing out the lineup card. More players mean insurance in the event of injury.
“We have a lot of backups, which we didn’t have last year,” Sarah Tuthill, a senior pitcher and third baseman, said in an interview while taking in the sight of a large group of players doing a warmup run around the gym. “We have a lot of options this year.”
Marra said the breakdown of players from Southold and Greenport is fairly evenly distributed, and a sizable chunk of them are freshmen, which bodes well for the future.
The Clippers have steadily progressed since Marra took over the team four years ago. They won a handful of games last year, but the improvement they showed over the course of the season was what really encouraged Marra. The Clippers beat some teams in the second half of the season that they lost to in the first half.
“We’re definitely on an upward climb, and we’re going to get better,” Sutton said. “We beat teams last year that we haven’t beat in years past, so now they’re worried about Southold.”
Clark said last season’s experience will help this year. “We might not have had as many wins as we wanted to, but I think last season boosted our morale for this year,” she said. “It’s my senior year. I want to succeed.”
To help along those lines, the Clippers have some veterans to lead the way, like shortstop Brittany Doucett, catcher Rosemary Volinski, Tuthill, Sutton and Clark.
Also returning are second baseman Heather Jarvis and outfielders Mercedes Edwards and Rebecca Guariello. New to the team are Ashley Hilary, Toni Esposito, Katie Tuthill, Evelyn Cummings, Paige Messana and Sydney Mulvaney.
Sutton has noticed a good deal of enthusiasm among the players. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen,” she said. “Practices have been good. There have been people I haven’t seen play before and they just amaze me.”
Marra said the turnout is a good sign. She remains hopeful that the team can continue on its path.
“We’re not an automatic win to other teams any more, and there was once upon a time where it seemed that way,” she said. “And I think that having a better season last year builds confidence, and going into these games, I just hope that they have the confidence that we belong there just as much as any other team does, and that we’re very capable, and now we have to show it.”
Being new to the varsity scene can be intimidating for any player, nevermind a 13-year-old seventh grader. But that is the position Ashley Perkins found herself in last year. The Mattituck first baseman confessed to being “a little nervous” at the time, which was only natural. Her older sister, Sara, who pitched for the Tuckers before graduating in 2013, had some advice for her.
“She said to get my confidence up, don’t act like a little kid,” recalled Ashley.
With no junior high school or junior varsity experience, Perkins emerged as a starter since day one. She didn’t do too badly for herself as the youngest player on the team. Her play earned her the honor of being named the Suffolk County League VII rookie of the year.
“She rose to the occasion,” coach Kelly Pickering said. “She handled the pressure and the adjustment.”
Here’s how Perkins put it: “I think I did pretty well for being a first-year” player.
Then again, Perkins was not exactly a first-year player. She is currently a member of the Long Island Express, and has played for other travel teams. Softball is still softball, so that background may have given Perkins the confidence boost she needed.
Rachel Voegel, a junior catcher, said Perkins looked comfortable last year, like she belonged.
“She really brought it last year,” Voegel said. “She showed everybody. She fit right in.”
Like her sister, Ashley has red hair and the two share a facial resemblance. The two sisters also share a love of softball. Ashley said she enjoys the competition and appreciates the variety of skills required to play the sport.
Ashley said she used to be a pitcher, too, before moving to catcher. After suffering a shoulder injury, she tried first base and found she really liked the position.
Pickering said Perkins is a little stronger and a little more experienced than she was a year ago. “Her hitting is great,” said the coach, who expects Perkins to bat in the top half of the order. “She’s probably one of the most consistent hitters that I have, adjusting to different speeds.”
The right-handed Perkins is still feeling the affect of an injury to her right wrist, which she suffered in the fall. That didn’t prevent her, however, from taking part in Friday’s cold practice when the team went outside for the first time, shagging fly balls hit by the assistant coach, Kim Gerstung, on open patches of grass while nearby areas were covered in ice and snow.
“It’s not completely healed yet,” Perkins said of her wrist. “I’m just working through it.”
Perkins is one of five starters back from last year’s team, which went 6-10. The others are senior pitcher Lisa Angell, senior infielder Caralee Stevens, freshman shortstop Ashley Chew and Voegel. Chew is recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury to her left knee.
Also returning are infielder Marissa Sannino and outfielders Kathatz Hatzinikolaou, Alyssa Parks and Alyssa Scartozzi.
The new additions are infielder/outfielder Alexis Burns, infielder Jaclyn Thompson, outfielders Grace Izzo, Kimberly Corso and Cici Stevens, pitcher/infielder/outfielder Madison Osler and catcher/outfielder Jaime Gaffga.
Even though the Tuckers do not have a junior varsity team this year, Voegel said she expects “a lot of improvement” from last season. “Now that we have all that competition coming up to varsity, our skillset this year is going to be pretty good,” she said.
Some of the team’s newcomers may do well to listen to what Perkins said is the biggest lesson she took from her first varsity season. She said, “If you make a mistake, just let it go; it’s not that big of a deal.”