Softball: Burns brings Tuckers relief as starter

Relief didn’t come to Alexis Burns and the rest of the Mattituck softball players until the final out was recorded. Only then could the Tuckers breathe a sigh of relief. They had dodged a bullet.

Actually, Burns had brought Mattituck some unusual relief in her own way as an emergency starting pitcher on Monday. With the team’s top two pitchers unavailable (senior Madison Osler was out of state and eighth-grader Lilly Fogarty wasn’t in school Monday), the Tuckers were forced to turn to their third-string pitcher, Burns.

Although Burns had split pitching duties last year with Ashley Chew, she is known more for being a field player.

When Burns was asked what kind of a pitcher she is, she simply replied, “A bad one.”

Burns was just good enough, though, Monday to help Mattituck eke out a 10-8 Suffolk County League VII triumph over rival Southold/Greenport at Greenport High School.

Earlier in the afternoon Burns had received word from coach Kim Gerstung that she would be pitching for the first time this year.

“I was very scared,” Burns admitted. “I’m more of a field player, not a pitcher. I was stressed out.”

Her stress level may have reached an all-time high in the seventh inning. Mattituck (3-1, 3-1) surged to what looked like a safe 10-4 lead with a five-run rally in the top of the seventh. That lead, however, wasn’t as safe as it seemed. Southold (2-3, 2-3) rallied for four runs in the bottom half of the inning to make things interesting indeed.

Burns worked much of that inning with the bases loaded. After she threw a wild pitch, allowing Liz Clark to score, Burns walked the Nos. 8 and 9 batters, Jenna McFarland and Julia Jaklevic (2-for-3, RBI, walk), in succession, cutting Mattituck’s lead to 10-8.

“I was thinking that I was going to get pulled,” said Burns.

Just when Burns needed it most, she got some big help from friends behind her. With the bases loaded, Annie Lincoln hit a line drive at the shortstop, Chew, who then fired the ball to third baseman Jaden Thompson, catching Southold’s Felecia Kayel off the bag for a quick double play.

“That’s hard,” Southold coach Skip Gehring said. “A line drive. The instinct is to take off. You have to be very disciplined to stay on the bag.”

The next batter, Madison Hilton, reached base on an infield error, loading the bases again. This time, Burns bore down and struck out one of Southold’s toughest hitters, Grace Syron, to end it.

“I was very happy,” said Burns, who described the situation as being “very intense.”

Burns’ pitching performance will not go down in the record books, but she got the job done, even with the uneasy moments. The junior righthander gave up 11 hits, five earned runs and six walks. She struck out two.

“Considering she hasn’t pitched since last year, she did great,” said Gerstung.

Mattituck gave Burns a lot of runs to work with, and she needed them.

The Tuckers never trailed, but it was a close game until the fifth when Ashley Perkins singled in one of her three RBIs and later scored herself on a wild pitch for a 5-1 lead.

“We supported our pitcher,” Gerstung said. “We knew that she was going to be throwing pitches that were hittable, so offensively we come through with some runs.”

Before the inning ended, though, Southold pulled three runs back through a squib RBI infield single by Hilton and a two-run triple that Hannah Sutton blasted over centerfielder Dominique Crews.

Trailing by a run, Southold threatened in the sixth by loading the bases on an Ashley Hilary single and walks to McFarland and Lincoln. Hilton then flied out, ending the threat.

Mattituck expanded its lead to 10-4 in the seventh thanks to four hits — including RBI singles by Crews and Aniah Thompson (3-for-4, two RBIs) — and three errors.

“When you’re down 10-4, you think the game is over,” said Gehring.

It wasn’t. The first seven Southold batters in the seventh reached base.

“It was nerve-racking,” Hilton said, “but we wanted to wait on the ball just because we always swing on the first pitch — like we can’t wait — so it was a waiting game for us and it was really nerve-racking.”

Upon returning to her team’s bench area following the postgame handshakes, Gerstung said: “Hey, was that a good game or what? Every time we come to Southold, they give us a good game.”

When it was all over, Burns could smile and joke about her outing. She wore the look of the relieved.

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Photo caption: Mattituck’s No. 3 pitcher, Alexis Burns, was called upon in an emergency start and helped the Tuckers hold off Southold, 10-8. (Credit: Bob Liepa)