Softball: It’s celebration time for playoff-bound Clippers

It was a celebration 20 years in the making, and the Southold/Greenport high school softball team was making up for lost time. So, the Clippers celebrated and celebrated, and then celebrated some more.

They screamed. They hugged. They danced. They threw confetti.

Moments like these haven’t come around too often for the Clippers, so they made the most of it Thursday after they clinched their first playoff berth since 1997 when a Tom McGunnigle-coached team reached the postseason. A 16-6 pasting of host Port Jefferson in a six-inning game shortened by the mercy rule did the trick, ending the long playoff drought.

“Right now I’m in shock,” centerfielder Toni Esposito said. She added, “This is a great accomplishment for our team.”

Leftfielder Liz Clark, who had confetti all over her hair, said: “I’m ecstatic. This is the best feeling I’ve had on a team.”

After Port Jefferson’s Ashley Catoggio grounded out to third baseman Hannah Sutton for the final out, the pitching circle became a mob scene, with joyful Southold players enjoying the moment they had been waiting for.

Shortly after, a pail of confetti was handed to them and they charged toward their new coach, Skip Gehring, dumping the confetti over him.

“This is really, really something special,” senior shortstop Katie Tuthill said. “I am so happy. It’s my last chance at a banner for anything, so I am just so, so excited. It was a great day.”

Southold (9-5, 9-5 League X), the 17th-ranked Class C team in the state by a New York State Sportswriters Association poll that was released Tuesday, has made great strides this season. Not only has the hitting improved considerably, but the defense has been clean and pitcher Ashley Hilary has done a commendable job keeping hits and walks down.

“The girls worked hard all year,” Gehring said. “They’ve had an exciting year. It’s been a total team effort. We’re scoring runs. We’re playing phenomenal defense. Ashley is pitching great.”

Southold used a seven-run burst in the sixth inning to make the score 16-1. The Clippers totaled 12 hits for the game, but also benefitted from 13 errors by Port Jefferson (2-12, 2-12).

Tuthill (three RBIs) and Clark (two RBIs) both went 3-for-5. Designated hitter Samantha Baldwin added three RBIs and Esposito scored four runs in addition to tripling.

Hilary hurled a four-hitter, with four strikeouts and no walks. She did not allow an earned run. Two of those Port Jefferson hits came off the bat of Isabella Koutsantanou.

So, what makes Southold a playoff team?

“I think it’s our defense, to be honest with you,” Tuthill said. “Obviously, we have great bats and we’re still working on them and they’re not always a hundred percent, but our defense is always getting an out and that is what is so important.”

Esposito gave props to Gehring, saying: “He believes in us. He’s helping us get more confident, and that’s really helping us as a team because once we believe in ourselves and each other, we can do great things.”

Well after the game, the Clippers could still be heard from a distance cheering as they made the long walk toward their team bus. One sensed that the celebrating would continue for a while.

“You should see our celebrations on the bus,” Tuthill said. “We’re going to Chick-fil-A. We’re happy.”

And they’re also going to the playoffs.

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Photo caption: Jubilant Southold/Greenport players celebrate their team clinching its first playoff berth since 1997. (Credit: Garret Meade)