Game day is finally approaching.
Following a 20-year wait, the Southold/Greenport high school softball team has returned to the playoffs. As Suffolk County’s only Class C qualifier, the Clippers have had to wait until Thursday when they face Nassau County champion East Rockaway in a Southeast Region semifinal at Hofstra University.
Southold (12-5) has been steadily climbing up the New York State Sportswriters Association’s Class C rankings, and was listed seventh in the poll that was released Tuesday. East Rockaway (6-12) is ranked 28th.
The Clippers’ mood has been described as a combined sense of excitement and nervousness. “They’ve never been this far before in any sport,” said coach Skip Gehring.
With Thursday’s game, it will be 24 days since Southold last played. Gehring said he has been putting the team through hard practices to keep the players focused, with periodic days off.
“I do feel like they’re prepared,” Gehring said. “They look very good in practice and very focused.”
Southold is hitting .385 as a team, with Katie Tuthill (.660 batting average, 20 RBIs), Toni Esposito (.547, 17 RBIs), Liz Clark (.509), Evelyn Cummings (.492, 24 RBIs), Hannah Sutton (.471) and Samantha Baldwin (.470, 18 RBIs) leading the way. (Cummings broke a finger in practice Tuesday and will be out for the remainder of the postseason, said Gehring).
For all of that offense, Gehring has been stressing defense in practice.
“We got to play tough defensively,” he said. “Defense has been what has gotten us all [here]. Even though we have hit well, as any good coach knows, defense wins championships, not offense.”
As much as Southold’s hitting has improved since last year, it has cleaned up its defense considerably as well.
Cummings said, “So far the defense has been phenomenal throughout the season and defense has been winning our games, but I think if we can get our hits going a bit better, we could definitely secure a spot” in a regional final Saturday.
Meanwhile, pitcher Ashley Hilary (12-3) has been doing her part. The junior righthander has a 3.14 ERA with 56 strikeouts and 22 walks in 94 innings, including four shutouts. Batters are hitting .235 against her.
Esposito said, “We got where we were, but now we got to continue to build and hopefully peak.”
Gehring said East Rockaway’s record is deceptive since the Rocks have played against bigger schools. “I honestly believe that we will win, but it will be a tight game,” he said. “When you get in the playoffs, it’s a second season. Whatever happened prior, it doesn’t matter any more.”
“The girls are ready; the girls have worked real hard,” he continued. “I couldn’t be prouder, nor have I had more fun coaching a group of kids in many, many years.”
Photo caption: Southold/Greenport shortstop Katie Tuthill and her teammates have used a blend of improved offense and tightened defense to bring the Clippers into the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)