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Softball: Ranked Clippers one win away from playoffs

One more win, and they’re in.

The Southold/Greenport high school softball team could clinch a playoff berth as soon as Thursday when it plays in Port Jefferson. That’s especially significant because the Clippers haven’t reached the playoffs since 1997.

With four regular-season games remaining on their schedule, it appears a virtual lock that the Clippers (8-5 overall and in Suffolk County League X) will see the postseason for the first time in 20 years. Several players were asked what it would feel like to finally put an end to the playoff drought. They indicated they weren’t exactly sure what their reactions would be like.

“I have no idea,” senior first baseman Evelyn Cummings said. “I don’t know what my reaction is going to be. I might cry, I might scream. I don’t know.”

Junior pitcher Ashley Hilary said, “I don’t even know because we’ve never had a season like this.”

Life is good for the Clippers, and it’s getting better. Last week Southold was ranked in the New York State Sportswriters Association poll for the first time, according to coach Skip Gehring. When the latest poll was released Tuesday, the Clippers had been bumped up from 23rd to 17th in Class C.

“When we found out, we were all like screaming on the bus,” said senior rightfielder Samantha Baldwin.

It wasn’t all that long ago when Southold was the team that would lose by the 12-run mercy rule every now and then. On Tuesday the Clippers were on the winning end, handing Pierson/Bridgehampton an 18-0 pounding in a game that was stopped after five innings at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor. Hilary tossed a two-hitter and Cummings drove in three runs.

Pierson (4-9, 4-9), a Class C team, is trying to secure a place in the playoffs itself.

Altogether, Southold totaled 15 hits off three pitchers, with Toni Esposito, Liz Clark, Katie Tuthill, Cummings, Hannah Sutton and Baldwin producing two hits apiece.

“Everybody can hit,” Cummings said. “There’s not one person in our lineup who can’t hit.”

Southold scored all of its runs in three successive innings, putting up nine runs in the second, five in the third and four in the fourth.

Meanwhile, Hilary was as steady as ever, not allowing a walk and striking out two. The righthander’s bid for her first career no-hitter was spoiled with two outs in the fourth inning when Leigh Hatfield socked a hit off second baseman Annie Lincoln’s outstretched glove. The one-hitter lasted until the game’s next-to-last batter, the speedy Nia Dawson, legged out an infield single.

Having all that run support surely took pressure off Hilary.

“Ashley is changing speeds, locations and realizing that our defense is phenomenal,” Gehring said. “Ashley is pitching a great game, but the defense is awesome.”

Now Southold faces a different sort of pressure, the sort that comes with the expectation of winning, being a highly ranked team. “That’s a whole different mind-set of how to play,” said Gehring, who is in his first year coaching the team.

“The girls deserve a ton of credit,” he said. “They worked their butt off and they deserve everything that they get.”

One of those rewards could come Thursday with a win over Port Jefferson that would open the gates to the playoffs for Southold.

What would that be like?

“I don’t really know because it’s something I’ve never felt before,” Baldwin said. “I know it’s going to be really exciting.”

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Photo caption: Southold/Greenport’s Evelyn Cummings high-fives Samantha Baldwin before the Clippers took on Pierson/Bridgehampton on Tuesday. (Credit: Bob Liepa)