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Softball: After 24-year career, Gerstung set to retire at season’s end

Five years ago Kim Gerstung made a pledge to Lilly Fogarty, an up-and-coming eighth-grade pitcher on the Mattituck softball team at the time. Gerstung recalled: “I told her, ‘Look, I will not abandon you.’ ”

Determined to keep her word, Gerstung has done just that. She has made this varsity softball journey with Fogarty. Following this season as the Southold/Greenport/Mattituck coach, Gerstung will retire, ending a 24-year coaching career in which she has worked at the varsity, junior varsity and junior high school levels. She will bow out, along with Fogarty and senior first baseman Bridget Ryan, the only two remaining players from the 2019 Mattituck team.

“It’s bittersweet,” Gerstung said. She continued: “I’m gonna miss being with this group of girls.”

Described by players as a tough, demanding coach who isn’t shy to let her players know when they did something wrong, Gerstung, who is assisted by Amanda Graziano, describes herself as being rigid. “I try to be a rigid coach because I want the girls to learn, but I also want the girls to have fun,” she said.

Fogarty said being a part of Gerstung’s final season is “really special. I’m glad that we get to go out together. It makes it all that much more” special.

Asked what her coach is like, Fogarty said: “She definitely holds us to be better and makes sure that we’re doing all the right things in practice. That way it transitions to the game.” Fogarty said Gerstung “has a good balance. We’re able to laugh and goof around and still get stuff done.”

One thing Gerstung has wanted to do before her coaching days conclude is enjoy a win over Babylon, something she has never done in what she estimates is about 20 games between the teams over the last 10 years. Coach Rick Punzone’s team is a perennial power, a marvel of consistency year in, year out. This season is no different. Babylon and Center Moriches are the favorites for the Suffolk County Class B championship.

If Southold is to pull off what would be a monumental upset of Babylon, it will have to come in the playoffs. Visiting Babylon beat Southold via the mercy rule for the second time this season, 15-0, on Thursday in a League VII game stopped after six innings. Southold also lost in Babylon, 14-2, on April 2.

Hazel Bivona, who stole five bases for Babylon, slides in safely under the tag by Southold/Greenport/Mattituck’s Lilly Corwin. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

One could say Babylon (7-1, 4-1) stole this most recent game — literally. The Panthers stole 11 bases, including five alone by leadoff batter Hazel Bivona.

Babylon is about as aggressive a team as there is on the basepaths.

“It’s stressful because I do know their steal signs, but I know that they’re just gonna go anyways,” said Ryan.

That sort of speed puts pressure on a defense, and Southold felt that pressure, making seven errors.

As if that wasn’t enough, Babylon pounded out 12 hits. Bivona and Cori Biehl had three hits and an RBI each. Mikayla Sasuk drove in four runs, three of them coming on a bases-loaded single in the sixth that made it 15-0. Emily McGurk and Kerin Tanner chipped in two RBIs each.

“They have a very good offense,” Gerstung said. “They can make contact with the ball.”

Meghan McGurk pitched a two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts and three walks. She also hit a batter.

Southold (4-7, 3-3) picked up its first hit in the third when Brienna McFarland whacked a one-out single under the third baseman’s glove. The only other hit Meghan McGurk surrendered was the following inning when Lilly Corwin grounded a single through right side of the infield.

Southold can nab its fourth straight playoff berth (discounting 2020 when the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) Friday with a home win over Shelter Island. The First Settlers will then close their regular season May 12, Senior Day, at home to Center Moriches.

This is also the final go-around for Southold’s other seniors: Sam Hildesheim, Rachel Orlowski, Jules Schuch, Cassie Stevens and Ella Zaffino.

Gerstung, a former Southold basketball and softball player, wants to officiate soccer and softball in the next school year. What she has enjoyed the most about coaching is the relationships with her players.

“I just enjoy being with the kids,” she said. “Like I treat these kids like they’re my own kids. So I enjoy being with them and it makes my day complete when I know that I can leave, I’m done teaching and I’m gonna go see my kids, my softball kids after school.”