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Softball: Even in defeat, Settlers see gains

Listening to the sounds emanating from the Southold/Greenport bench on a cold, blustery Friday afternoon, you wouldn’t have guessed the softball team was losing its game to Port Jefferson by a considerable amount

They encouraged teammates, whether they were at bat or sophomore righthander Christina Tsaveras, who pitched five innings of decent relief in what turned into a 16-6 home loss to Port Jefferson in Suffolk County League VI.

But everything is relative. The First Settlers (0-5, 0-5) have grown by leaps and bounds since Day One.

Entering Friday’s game, they had been outscored 67-7, all those encounters stopped by the mercy rule in the fifth inning.

“It’s fun to get past the fifth inning and not being mercyed,” first-year head coach Alexandra Small said. “It’s fun seeing the sixth and seventh inning.

“Just the progression that they’re making is wonderful to see. The first couple of games really struggling, not just really feeling positive with the way the season was going. We had three games this week. Today put a nice ending to the week. A good start for upcoming games.”

A lot of that can be attributed to positive thinking.

“There’s a lot of heart on this team,” said sophomore leftfielder Julia Jaklevic, who had a fifth-inning double and scored on Jenna McFarland’s single. “Even though if we’re losing, there’s still that drive to try our best to win.

“We just tend to have fun with the sport. We all love the sport. That’s why we’re here. We’re starting new. We realize we’re not going to win every single game. It depends on everything going in the future, going forward. We have created a family-like scene with each other, so we’re all really supportive, winning or losing.”

Let’s put this season into perspective. It’s a rebuilding year and the learning curve has been steep for a team that has no returning seniors. There are four juniors on the squad, the rest are freshmen, sophomores and juniors.

The season opener at Mattituck, a 14-2 defeat, was a baptism by fire for virtually the entire team. Small said the leap from then has been “astronomical.”

“Our first game was against Mattituck and the girls, they got up to the plate and didn’t swing the bat,” she said. “Really nervous, young team, a lot of them first time playing a varsity sport, especially varsity softball. And you just say, ‘OK, go out there and get a hit.’ They can’t really understand that high philosophy of what’s going on. Just from then to now, they’re just working hard. It’s great to see.”

The First Settlers took their first lead of the year in the bottom of the first inning. Third baseman Brienna McFarland led off with a bunt single, moved to third on two steals and came home on Jaklevic’s strikeout. Royals catcher Evelyn Walker couldn’t handle righthander Abby Rolfe’s pitch and Jaklevic raced down to first base and beat the throw while McFarland came home.

An interesting bit of trivia: four Southold batters struck out that inning because of the passed ball giving them an extra out.

That lead, however, did not last very long. The Royals (3-5, 2-4) scored 10 runs behind eight walks, two hits and an error with Amanda Bardsley on the mound.

To the First Settlers’ credit, they never gave up.

“We definitely played our best of the games so far,” Tsaveras said. “We might have not won the game. Everyone on the team did their part and we’re definitely seeing an improvement and a step in the right direction.”

Tsaveras came on in the third and did not allow an earned run until the visitors scored four times in the top of the seventh. She said it was a combination of being tired and cold on a windy afternoon. “I tried to pitch the best I can and do whatever I can for my team,” she said.

Small was impressed with her sophomore’s performance. “She really rose to the occasion,” she said. “I didn’t tell her she was going to be pitching today, really. We had it set up yesterday and she pitched Wednesday. Monday she also pitched, so I was just going to give her the day off. I said, ‘Warm up,’ and she’s ready to go. She’s a great player to have. She’s what every coach looks for.”

The First Settlers played without their starting second baseman and one of her rightfielders, so Small placed Rhian O’Neil in rightfield in the latter stages of the game. O’Neil didn’t get a hit, but she produced a fine running one-handed catch that she helped turn into an inning-ending double play in the sixth.

“The catch that she made was really beautiful,” Small said. “She’s been coming to practice, working hard every day and waiting for a shot. She really proved what she can do out there.”