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Softball: Southold drops close one in Game 1

Here’s a Penny for your thoughts.

One of the thoughts preceding the opener to the Suffolk County Class C softball finals Monday was that this one could get ugly. That would have been understandable, too, with Southold/Greenport’s first-string pitcher, Ashley Hilary, out with a broken finger on her throwing hand and a sophomore, Liz Jernick, taking her place in the pitching circle. Jernick, however, did a commendable job.

At the same time, though, Bishop McGann-Mercy had its No. 1 pitcher working, and she was a difference-maker. Sarah Penny recorded 11 strikeouts as part of a seven-hit shutout as Mercy took the opening game from the defending county champions, 3-0, in what could be the last softball game ever played at Mercy. The Riverhead Catholic school will close next month.

The Monarchs (9-11) could close out the best-of-three series Wednesday in Greenport. A third game would be back at Mercy Friday, if necessary.

“We just played our hearts out,” said a pumped-up Penny, who said she had a good warmup.

All eyes were on Hilary as she walked off the team bus. The Southold senior broke a finger on her pitching hand when she was struck by a line drive in a May 7 game against Westhampton Beach. She is out for the rest of the playoffs, said coach Skip Gehring.

Mercy coach Rose Horton said she had expected to face Hilary and prepared her team accordingly. It wasn’t until she saw Hilary wearing shorts coming off the bus that she realized Southold would use another pitcher.

Southold (6-13) lost more than a pitcher. Hilary’s batting average was over. 400.

“It’s not just losing a pitcher; we lost a bat,” Gehring said. “That one big bat in the lineup, it’s a big difference.”

Southold may have missed Hilary’s bat as much as her pitching arm Monday. Even so, the First Settlers actually outhit Mercy, 7-5, and were in the game the whole time. Jernick walked five, struck out one and was supported by near-flawless defense. Two of the runs she allowed were earned.

Gehring said Jernick was “phenomenal.” He said: “Defensively, we played a flawless game, so Liz did her job in terms of putting the ball in play and letting us make the plays … Ashley did a lot of work with her when Ashley broke her finger, working with her on what she did today. OK, she doesn’t have all the different pitches, but she’s hitting spots and got them to pop up a lot to the infield, fly balls to the outfield.”

Jernick, a righty, doesn’t have Hilary’s velocity and some of her pitches come in on an arc, so Mercy had some adjusting to do.

“I think any team that loses their number one pitcher, it kind of puts a damper on a lot,” Horton said. “Like your whole entire team is in a different mindset without that person on the mound, so I’m sure that they were a little down, but I think that they came out and they didn’t give up. They were still focused to win the game.”

But Penny was on her game. The sophomore lefthander didn’t issue a walk. By the time Southold batted through its order once, Penny already had five strikeouts.

“I think she probably had one of her best games of the season today,” Horton said. “She was on. All of her pitches were working. She was working both sides of the plate, so I was beyond impressed with her show out there today.”

Mercy had beaten Southold, 14-0, on April 13. This time around, though, Southold stayed within striking range the whole time. The Monarchs put up a run each in the first, third and fourth innings — all of them scoring with two outs.

Katie Wilkie lined an RBI single that made it 1-0.

Mercy squeezed in the second run. After a booming triple by Wilkie, Izzy Sorgi drew a walk. Wilkie scored on that play, stealing home and beating shortstop Hannah Sutton’s throw.

Ryan Waski, who scored the third run, reached base on the game’s only error. She was doubled home by Jordyn Stromski.

Madison Hilton had two hits for Southold.

The game was completed in a swift 72 minutes.

“We were all definitely disappointed with Ashley getting injured because [she has] vast experience in softball,” said Southold centerfielder Grace Syron, who had two hits, including a double that she belted off the centerfield fence. “She has many pitches and she always hits her spots, but I’m really proud of Liz for stepping up and really just getting it across the plate, throwing strikes to keep us in the game.”

If this was Mercy’s last game on its home field, it wasn’t a bad one for the Monarchs to remember. Did Horton give thought to the possibility that this was the last game at Mercy?

“It definitely occurred to me, but I didn’t want any tears,” she said. “I only wanted happiness, so I didn’t bring it up today.”

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Photo caption: Southold/Greenport sophomore pitcher Liz Jernick filled in for injured senior Ashley Hilary against Bishop McGann-Mercy in the first game of the Suffolk County Class C finals. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)