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Softball

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Mount Sinai falls in the Long Island championship game for a third straight season. Photo by Alex Petroski

It took 23 games, but the undefeated 2017 Mount Sinai Mustangs softball team finally met its match in the Long Island championship game. The Mustangs fell to MacArthur, 7-0, June 2 at St. Joseph’s College for its first loss of the season. Sophomore starting pitcher Julia Golino allowed five earned runs, 10 hits and two walks over 3.1 innings to blemish her was-perfect record.

Mount Sinai prays for a rally in the seventh. Photo by Alex Petroski

Mount Sinai’s powerful offense managed just four hits in the final after scoring at least six runs in 11 out of their last 12 games. For a third consecutive season, the Mustangs reached the high of a county championship, only to fall short of a Long Island crown.

MacArthur’s Jessica Budrewicz shut down Mount Sinai with a complete game shutout, seven strikeout performance. She allowed three Mustang hits in the first two innings, but just one more over the final five. Mount Sinai head coach Thomas Tilton applauded her performance in the circle.

“She’s good man — she moves it, she’s got a rise ball, a nice changeup, she hit her spots and she didn’t miss much,” he said. “   Tip your hat to her, she’s a good pitcher. That kid can throw.”

MacArthur celebrates defeating Mount Sinai in the Long Island championship game. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Generals put Golino in a hole early, scoring the first five runs on two-out hits. Golino couldn’t escape trouble in the fourth frame, and junior Emma Wimmer had to come into the game in relief to stop the bleeding. Even a 40-minute weather delay due to thunder and lightning couldn’t cool off Budrewicz and the MacArthur bats.

The Mustangs’ head coach reflected on the impact the team’s three seniors had on the season.

“They left a great mark, a great mark,” Tilton said of the departing group of 12th-graders who helped deliver the first three Suffolk County championships in program history during their tenure. “They’re the foundation of what we’ve built here and hopefully we can continue to do it.”

The Mustangs will be returning all but one starter in 2018, as left fielder Angela Bukofsky is the only regular graduating.

Hailey LaGuidice swings at a pitch. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It definitely means a lot — it’s great,” an emotional Bukofsky said after the game of the three county crowns she’ll be leaving behind at Mount Sinai. She said her teammates were what she will miss most about playing for the Mustangs. “We definitely deserve it. We worked really hard to get here. Going from a record that was about even in wins and losses to being 22-0 is just amazing.”

Though the loss stung in the present, Tilton said he still has a hopeful eye on the future.

“I think we’ve got a really strong team again next year — we’ll be back at it,” he said. Golino and fellow starting pitcher Wimmer dominated all season in 2017 for the Mustangs, and both will be back to try to get over the hump in 2018. Standout shortstop Lové Drumgole, who Tilton called “the real deal,” and one of the best players on the Island earlier in the playoffs, will also be returning for her senior season to give a run at a Long Island title another shot. “We won’t be quitting,” Tilton said. “I can tell you that.”

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The Mount Sinai softball team raises up its championship plaque following a 8-1 win over Westhampton-Beach. Photo by Alex Petroski

Before 2015, Mount Sinai’s softball team had never won a Suffolk Class A title. Now, the county crowns are coming in bunches.

The Mustangs completed their Suffolk schedule a perfect 22-0 with an 8-1 victory in the championship game against Westhampton Beach May 27 at Mount Sinai High School. Junior Emma Wimmer led the way with a complete game, eight-strikeout performance on the mound and went 2-for-3 with four RBIs at the plate — including a three-run homerun in the fifth.

Emma Wimmer throws a pitch. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Couldn’t happen to a better kid,” head coach Thomas Tilton said of Wimmer’s big day. He praised his starter and sophomore pitcher Julia Golino for their season-long dominance in the circle. “We have a two-headed dinosaur here — we have a kid that’s 12-0 and another kid that’s 10-0. So on any given day, either one of them can go, and they do their job.”

Golino served as a catalyst for the offense against Westhampton, chipping in three doubles and scoring two runs in the blowout win. She’s been one of many underclassmen to step up for the Mustangs throughout the course of the 2017 season, and given her age, could be a sign that the three straight championships might only be the beginning.

“I think being younger helped us,” Golino said. “We’ve gained experience through this, and we’re only going to grow through the years.”

Wimmer, who will also be back to make a run at four straight county titles in 2018, expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s good because you get to work with them throughout all the years, and everyone’s just progressively getting better,” she said. “We’re all growing up together basically.”

Julia Golino hits one of her three doubles. Photo by Alex Petroski

Before Wimmer’s big swing in the fifth, Mount Sinai led 4-1 thanks to two sacrifice flies from tenth graders — one by Holly McNair in the third and another by Ilexa Skulnick before Wimmer’s homer in the fifth — and several baserunners taking the extra base on fly outs and wild pitches. Following the semifinal win, Tilton repeatedly used the word “gritty” to describe his team, and the same toughness and willingness to grind out at-bats characterized the performance Saturday before Wimmer blew the game open.

“We were hitting it hard, they just weren’t falling in,” Tilton said. “It was just a matter of time. They were playing us deep and we were just trying to hit the ball in front of them.”

Westhampton made Wimmer work early on the mound. The first two batters reached on a single and a walk to start the game, but two strikeouts with runners on second and third eliminated the threat in the top of the first. A double and a single to start the third inning got Westhampton on the board first, but Wimmer settled in, allowing only one more baserunner over the final four innings. She retired 14 of the last 15 batters she faced.

Emma Wimmer’s teammates congratulate her after a three-run homer. Photo by Alex Petroski

The hurler said she couldn’t remember a better all-around game in her career, and called it “awesome” to come up with the clutch performance in a county final.

“It was a great feeling, I was so happy,” Wimmer said, reflecting on what went through her mind as the homer sailed over the centerfield fence. “It definitely let some of the pressure off. Having more runs helps when I pitch because you get that insurance.”

Mount Sinai will face McArthur in the Long Island championship June 2 at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue at 3:30 p.m.

The Mustangs celebrate their third straight county title. Photo by Alex Petroski

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Lové Drumgole greets her teammates following her big home run. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Mount Sinai softball team is on to the Suffolk County Class A championship thanks to a stellar pitching performance by an underclassmen, and a little dose of Lové.

Sophomore starting pitcher Julia Golino shut down Westhampton Beach in a complete game performance in the semifinals May 23, and junior shortstop Lové Drumgole provided the bulk of the offense with a second-inning grand slam to help the Mustangs secure a 7-4 win at home. Mount Sinai will face the winner of the May 26 matchup between Westhampton Beach and Sayville for the right to wear the Suffolk County crown. The Mustangs, who went 18-0 during the regular season, have still yet to lose a game in 2017.

Lové Drumgole rounds the bases after her grand slam. Photo by Alex Petroski

If Mount Sinai were to lose to the winner of the May 26 matchup during the May 27 final, which starts at 10 a.m., the teams will play a final elimination game at a time and date to be decided.

“They’ve been battle tested,” head coach Thomas Tilton said of his team. “You’re talking about a team that was 65-3 over the last three years. They’ve been behind, they’ve been in front — they just lean on one another. Everyday there’s a different hero, and that’s the way they play. It’s a team, that’s all I can say. They’re gritty and they don’t give up.”

Tilton spoke highly of his sophomore starter, who held Westhampton to one run through six innings before surrendering a walk and two hits sandwiched around a two-run error. It created some tense moments for the Mustangs in the final frame, though they held on for the victory.

“She’s a warrior,” Tilton said of Golino. “She got a little tired in the end; she was getting caught on her hip a little bit, but our defense is usually better than that. We stress fundamentals, especially on defense, and we got away from it a little bit, but they collected themselves.”

Drumgole came to the plate in the second inning with the bases loaded and no outs and a run already in during the frame to put the Mustangs ahead 2-1.

“That felt great,” Drumgole said of the grand slam home run which put her team ahead 6-1. “It was an outside pitch and I just hit it where it was pitched.”

Julia Golino tosses a pitch. Photo by Alex Petroski

When asked if the four-run-producing swing relieved some of the pressure the team might have been feeling in a tight playoff game, Drumgole downplayed the significance and said her approach never changes based on the score.

“She’s for real — that’s one of the best players on the island, by far,” the head coach said of his star shortstop and leadoff hitter. “She does it all. She’s one of the cornerstones of the team, so they all look up to her.”

Drumgole and team captain and senior left fielder Angela Bukofsky praised the “youngin” Golino for her toughness in the performance, repeatedly using the word “amazing.”

Golino said she gained confidence after Drumgole’s big swing.

“I think it gave us an advantage, coming out strong, and I think it made us able to stay strong throughout the game and determined — you can’t let up,” she said.

Mount Sinai had chances to put the game further out of reach, but left the bases loaded in the third inning, and left runners on second and third in the fourth. In the fifth inning, with runners on first and third, a line drive to shortstop was turned into a 6-3-2 triple play with Drumgole getting cut down trying to score by Westhampton’s first baseman. Golino recorded the final out of the game with the tying run in the on deck circle.

This version updates the dates and times of the championship games as per Section XI, as changes in the brackets occurred.

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By Bill Landon

Tori Hussey sent Smithtown East into the next round.

Her one-out grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning broke a 2-2 tie on the way to the No. 6 Bulls’ 7-4 Class AA first-round win over No. 11 Half Hollow Hills West May 15.

“I heard my first base coach saying ‘get out, get out’ and then after that, I heard everyone cheering and then I saw it,” Hussey said. “I knew it was a changeup, and I had to be ready for anything at that point.”

Half Hollow Hills West struck first when pitcher Jillian Weinstein smacked a two run home run over the left field fence in the top of the third. With one out and runners at the corners, the Colts threatened to extend their lead in the top of the fourth when an infield line drive sailed toward Smithtown East’s short stop, but Kyra Dalli snatched it and fired the ball to first before the runner could get back for a double play that ended the inning.

The Bulls battled back in the bottom of the fifth inning — with runners on first and third — when Samantha Swenson stepped into the batter’s box. She jumped on the first pitch and found the gap to bring home Lauren Schiraldi and make it a one-run game.

“I remember them being a good team the last time we played them — they definitely got better as the season went on and that showed,” Swenson said. “But we played our game, we got ahead of them and we won.”

Courtney Hohenberger’s bat spoke next when she ripped a single into the outfield, scoring Dalli from third to tie the game with no outs. After an out, Taylor Bigliani was up next, and showed patience at the plate. She let pitches outside the zone pass her by to draw a walk and load the bases. Hussey had a full count before slamming the ball out of the park, driving home Swenson, Hohenberger and Bigliani for a 6-2 lead.

Swenson added another base hit, sending Schiraldi over to third, and Hohenberger belted the ball deep to bring home Schiraldi.

“Our defense was shaky at the end, but we stuck together, made a few great plays,” Hohenberger said. “[In the seventh inning] I just knew we had to get the outs.”

Starting pitcher Ashley DeGiorgio got into trouble, loading the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh, and sending head coach Glenn Roper to the mound. He decided to stay with his starter, who limited Half Hollow Hills West to two runs before retiring the side.

“They had their best hitter at the plate and what was going through my mind is ‘do I change the pitcher or not?’ It’s a tough decision,” Roper said. “It’s a tough spot to put a kid into that situation with bases loaded and nobody out.”

DeDiorgio struck out four in the complete game win. Swenson went 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI.

Smithtown East will hit the road May 17 to take on No. 3 Deer Park with first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m.

Commack's Danielle Gambino and Michelle Principe blast the ball for the Cougars in their 12-0 win over Northport April 22. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Commack softball team was hard for Northport to catch up to April 22, after the Cougars went through the batting order twice in the fifth inning, scoring 12 runs en route to a 12-0 nonleague road win.

Commack’s Emily Fox tosses a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

Danielle Gambino went 4-for-4 with a grand slam and six RBIs and Gianna Venuti went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a triple to lead Commack (3-1) in Suffolk II. Michelle Principe also homered for Commack.

Already up 3-0 at the top of the fifth inning, Commack senior starting pitcher Emily Fox retired the side in order, and her team got to work on offense, which is were Principe started things off by cracking a shot over the left field fence for a leadoff homerun. The ball cleared the adjacent Long Island Rail Road property fence. According to Commack head coach Harold Cooley III, it was the longest home run he’d seen at the Northport field.

“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was definitely gone,” Principe said. “And then, when we hit, we followed through. When we had runners in scoring position, we scored most of them.”

Junior Ariana Arato’s bat spoke next on a stand-up double with no outs, and on missed catch on a pitch, she moved to third. Fox drew a walk, and was replaced by pinch runner Melanie Koster. The sophomore stole second with Gambino at the plate, and the junior ripped a base-clearing triple for a six-run lead.

Up to bat next was junior Stephanie Afonso, who hit a sac fly to bring Koster home, triggering a Northport pitching change. Senior Mimi Cusack took over at the mound.

Northport’s Sophia DeFalco gets the out at first. Photo by Bill Landon

“We started the game off a little slow,” Cooley III said. “The one thing that we’ve tried to execute from the beginning of the year is to make sure we get hits when we have runners in scoring position. We left a few out there at the beginning of the game, but we made adjustments as the game went on and adjusted well to a new pitcher.”

Commack junior Brianna Panzarella smacked in infield ball that rolled toward left field, but safely made it to first on a Northport error. Panzarella didn’t stay long, and stole second without a throw. Venuti singled, , and junior Sabrina Sussman drilled a pitch through the gap to plate Panzzerella with one out. Sussman stole second, and senior Kelly McKenna knocked the ball into shallow right field to score for an 8-0 advantage.

With still only one out, junior Casey Brown kept the inning going for Commack with a single, and Fox, made it to first on a Northport error to load the bases. Koster came in to run for Fox, and Gambino jumped on a pitch that she blasted over the right fielder’s head. The ball rolled to the fence as she rounded second, and got the green light from Cooley, as she made her way around third and crossed home plate for an inside-the-park grand slam.

Commack’s Gianna Venuti underhands the ball to the second baseman for the out. Photo by Bill Landon

“When I got to second and I saw he was waving me on, that’s when I knew,” Gambino said of her productive at-bat. “We’re a very strong team and we came out strong. This was one of our best games, so I’m very proud of my team.”

Because of the mercy rule of being up 12 runs by the sixth inning, the game was called with a 12-0 score. Despite the scoring drought, Northport head coach Janet Richter said she saw some bright spots.

“I was pleased with Danielle Petrunti, our senior second basemen and our first basemen Sophia DeFalco, but we made too many errors,” Richter said. “We worked the pitch count — we were able to get on base — so offensively I think we have room to grow and our infield was very tight today.”

With the win Commack improves to 9-3 and will get right back to work March 24 at home against Patchogue-Medford at 4:15 p.m. With the loss, Northport drops to 1-9, and will hit the road to take on Central Islip March 24 at 4:30 p.m.

“We had some monster shots today,” Cooley III said. “It’s the difference between having a pitcher that’s on and having hitters that are on. Sometimes, the hitters can make a run, and that’s what happened today.”

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Kristina Maggiacomo lays off an outside pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Ward Melville softball team raked in another win.

With a 2-1 victory over Half Hollow Hills East April 20, the Patriots are pushing for a new program-best record in over 10 years.

Katie Emig throws the runner out at first. Photo by Bill Landon

The team jumped out to a 5-0 start earlier in the season, tying its record from last year, but had hit a rough patch, with a five-game losing streak that ended with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Sachem North April 18.

Now, at 6-6, the team has eclipsed it’s win record from last year.

“Sachem, they’re a good team,” sophomore pitcher Kristina Maggiacomo said after the loss. “We could’ve come back and we could’ve won.”

That streak snap could’ve come sooner, but Ward Melville gave up two runs that were setup by three errors in the sixth inning.

Maggiacomo, the starting pitcher in both contests, was able to keep the Sachem hitters off-balance most of the way, with an effort from the mound that was well beyond her years.

“I don’t think age matters, but we’re getting better and better,” she said, adding that her curveball worked best.

She had another stellar performance in the win April 20. Maggiacomo struck out seven and walked none in the four-hit contest.

Katie Emig, the only senior on the squad, said the connection the Patriots have is what matters most.

Megan O’Brien lays down a bunt. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’re all very close, and it’s about the team,” Emig said. “It’s all about how much effort you put into it — how much we try and the trust that we all have in each other.”

In the win over Hills East, Emily Bellow smacked an RBI-single in the bottom of the fourth inning to break a 1-1 tie. Bellow went 2-for-3 in the win.

“I came here three years ago, and I said we’re going to change the dynamic to have an expectation to win every game,” Ward Melville head coach Joseph Burger said. “When you’re changing a culture sometimes there are bumps and bruises along the way, but I’m proud of them — they’re coming along, they’re fighting and they battled hard.”

For Burger, that mentality and culture is changing, and is evident with the new program record.

“This is a talented group,” He said. “The most important thing to do is to keep their heads up high, look at the positive things they’re doing. This team hasn’t been in this position for 10 plus years, so we’ve just got to keep pushing.”

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Port Jefferson's Annabelle Soucy slides slides home. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Siobhan Petracca’s solid pitching and Jackie Brown’s timely hitting propelled Port Jefferson’s softball team to its first win, a 12-0 shutout of Shelter Island April 7.

Port Jefferson’s Siobhan Petracca hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

Shelter Island (0-3) struggled early on, allowing unearned runs with passed balls at the plate. After the first inning, the Royals were up 4-0.

Sophomore shortstop Taylor Catoggio’s bat spoke next as she hit the ball into the gap for a standup double that drove home teammate Ji Won Woo to make it a five-run game.

“Today’s win was very important — it brought us all together because the losses can break us down,” Catoggio said. “I had confidence that [Siobhan Petracca] could put the ball over the plate, and confidence in my team that we’d get the first or the easiest out.”

Ashley Catoggio, Taylor’s twin sister, did her job with a sacrifice fly that plated Brown, a senior, and a passed ball scored the runner from third.

“We’re upbeat and happy for this win, it gives us confidence going forward,” Ashley Catoggio said. “We fielded really well today and we didn’t have a lot of errors.”

Following the list of young Royals making their presence known was sophomore Gabriela Sanchez, who smacked a grounder through the gap, bringing home senior Annabelle Soucy for an 8-0 lead in the bottom of the third.

Port Jefferson short stop Taylor Catoggio makes a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Shelter Island mounted its first serious threat in the top of the fourth with runners in scoring position, drawing a walk to load the bases with one out, but Petracca fanned the next two batters to get out of the jam.

“I was nervous, but I was confident I could do it, especially with my team cheering me on,” Petracca said of the bases loaded situation. “It’s been a little bit rough with the games that we’ve played, but this will help us from here on out.”

Brown, who was catching for Petracca, never doubted her pitcher’s poise.

“We have a lot of confidence in each other, “ Brown said. “She puts it over the plate and we strike them out.”

In the bottom of the sixth, Soucy crossed the plate on another passed ball, as did senior Chiara Rabeno, forcing Shelter Island to make a pitching change.

The change didn’t halt Port Jefferson though, as Brown blasted the ball to right field for a home run that put the Royals ahead 11-0.

Port Jefferson head coach Deb Brown, Jackie’s mom, was relieved to record her team’s first win of the early season.

Port Jefferson’s Jackie Brown rounds the bases during her home run. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’ll take the ‘W,’” she said. “We did some positive things today — we only had two errors which is better than our last couple of games — and the girls are getting to know each other. Their confidence is building with each at bat and with each play they make.”

Another passed ball that brought the 12th runner home, and triggered the mercy rule in the bottom of the sixth inning. Petracca finished the game with seven strikeouts, eight walks and one hit.

Jackie Brown finished 4-for-4 with a home run, three runs and four steals.. Taylor Catoggio was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, a run and a stolen base, and her sister Ashley added two RBIs, a run, a steal and two putouts. Sanchez finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs, a run, a stolen base and two putouts.

Deb Brown said she was pleased with her younger players’ performances, some who are playing softball for the first time.

“We have a new person at third base, Ji Won Woo, she did a great job, and we have someone new at second, Gabby Sanchez, and she’s doing an awesome job,” she said. “This is also a confidence builder for Siobhan, because this is the third time she’s pitched this week. It’s cold, and she did a great job.”

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Erica Hickey gets a base hit. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Comsewogue’s softball team continued its winning ways when the Warriors jumped out to an early 4-0 lead and never looked back, outscoring Islip 10-4 April 3 to improve to 3-0 this in League VIII.

Emily Whitman throws an Islip runner out at first sitting on the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

The Warriors bats went to work from the opening pitch, and although Islip threatened in the bottom of the second, the team failed to capitalize with a runner on third. In the top of the third, Emily Whitman hit a homerun over the centerfield fence to put her team out front, 4-0.

“I thought they were stronger from last year even though they lost a lot of key players, but this year we came ready to win, and we did,” she said. “Our hitting — we were definitely all over that pitcher today.”

Islip broke the ice in the bottom of the third, scoring a run on a sacrifice fly, but couldn’t maintain the momentum, stranding two runners at the end of the inning.

Alyssa Bono’s bat cracked next, as she slammed her own first pitch past center field for a 5-1 lead.

“I thought we would have a good game against Islip — we lost twice to them last year when I was on JV so I knew this would be a hard game to win,” Bono said. “I thought we played well all around.”

Taylor Graves kept the inning alive when she ripped a double into deep right field, plating teammate Erica Hickey for a 6-1 advantage. Whitman kept the inning alive and smacked the ball through the gap in right center for a double that brought home Graves. Whitman took off to third base and narrowly beat the tag, looking to finish what she’d started. Julia Keller was up next, and patient at the plate. She found one she liked, and jumped on it, knocking a home run over center field for a 9-1 lead.

Alyssa Bono catches an infield popup. Photo by Bill Landon

“I thought they’d come out a lot stronger,” Keller said of Islip. “We came in as the underdog, and we won. We’ll keep on hitting, but it’s our team bonding that wins games.”

Whitman took over on the mound for starting pitcher Alexa Murray in the bottom of the fifth, and retired the side in order.

Comsewogue went back to work threatening in the top of the sixth inning with runners on first and second, and as Murray stepped into the box, Graves was caught stealing to end the inning.

With their backs against the wall, Islip loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth following a pair of walks. Another walk sent home a run, a base hits scored two more to trail 9-4. With two outs, Islip drilled one right at Whitman, who was knocked down but able to stop the ball. Sitting on the ground from behind the mound, she made the throw to first in time for the out that ended the inning.

“Emily Whitman is unique — she’s one of the best players in the county and I’ll go to battle with her every time,” Comsewogue head coach Jason Surdi said. “When you have someone like Emily Whitman on your team, you have a chance to win every single game.”

Taylor Graves makes a play. Photo by Bill Landon

With Patricia Kelly on second, Donna Scarth got the job done as she laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved Kelly over to third, and Hickey finished it with a base hit that brought home another insurance one.

“This is a big win for this team — Islip is a perennial power, they’ve been in the county finals the past two years,” Surdi said. “I don’t know when the last time that Comsewogue has had a win against a county finalist — it could be 20-25 years so this is a big win for this program.”

With three outs left in the game, Islip would not answer as the Warriors handed the Buccaneers their first loss of the season.

“We’ve had a great start to the year,” Surdi said. “We have a lot of young players that have stepped up and right now we’re kicking on all cylinders.”

The team will play another powerhouse in Sayville April 5 at 4 p.m. Comsewogue will then travel to Rocky Point April 10 for a 10 a.m. matchup before hosting Miller Place at the same time April 12.

Stony Brook softball player Danni Kemp died after a battle with cancer. Photo from SBU

The Stony Brook family is mourning the loss of student-athlete Danni Kemp, who passed away on the morning of March 10 surrounded by family following her battle with cancer.

The Seawolves, who had dedicated their softball season to the sophomore, 19, postponed March 10 games against Santa Clara and New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Danni Kemp up to bat for the Seawolves. Photo from SBU

“Our hearts are heavy today and our love goes out to Danni and her family,” Stony Brook softball coach Megan Bryant said. “In all too short of a young life, Danni touched so many in a beautiful way. She fought so hard against this terrible disease, and showed us what true courage is. May Danni only know peace now.”

In July, Kemp was hit in the head by a pitch while playing in a summer league game. When she began feeling dizzy, had trouble focusing and couldn’t keep her balance, doctors tested her for a concussion. An MRI revealed a cancerous brain tumor.

Due to the location, surgery was not an option, and Kemp began radiation therapy Aug. 29, receiving treatment Monday through Friday for a total of six weeks.

A GoFundMe page was created on behalf of the family Aug. 22, and in six months had raised nearly $130,000 of the $150,000 goal, with donations from 1,575 people.

“Danni is the toughest young woman we have all ever met,” wrote Bradley Taylor, who created the GoFundMe page. “Her strong and indomitable will has already proven to be more than enough to battle and beat a rare kidney disease while she was in high school. This will be a battle, but with so many people who know and love Danni and her family, they’ve got an army behind them.”

Since her death, hundreds more dollars have poured in from those touched by the loss of Kemp, even those who didn’t know her.

“I felt very sad when I read the story,” wrote John Colombo.

Janis Matton was also saddened upon hearing the news.

“I am so very sorry for your loss,” she wrote. “Danni was truly an inspiration to all. Prayers for your family.”

“We got an angel in the outfield behind us. Heavy hearts with a little something more to play for this season.”

—Kevin Kernan

Kemp hit .446 as a junior for J.A. Foran High School in Connecticut en route to All-Conference and first team All-State honors. In her first three seasons at Foran, she collected more than 100 hits and 40 stolen bases. She was also a member of the Connecticut Charmers, an Under-18 fast pitch showcase team coached by Neil Swanchak.

As a Seawolf, she scored her first career hit against Charlotte University Feb. 20 of last year; had a double and scored a run at Florida Atlantic University Feb. 26; had two hits, including a bases-clearing double in a win over Columbia University Feb. 27; walked twice and drove in a run at Manhattan College March 30; drew three walks in another contest; and walked and scored a run at the University of Massachusetts Lowell April 16.

Kemp’s death had an impact that reverberated beyond just her softball family. After news of her death spread around campus, many student-athletes took to social media.

Tiffany Zullo, a midfielder on the women’s lacrosse team from Connetquot High School, tweeted: “We all play for Danni and will forever be Danni Strong. Rest in peace to a beautiful soul.”

Kevin Kernan, a baseball pitcher, posted, “We got an angel in the outfield behind us. Heavy hearts with a little something more to play for this season.”

Details for services will be forthcoming once the Kemp family makes arrangements.

“Danni had her entire life in front of her,” Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron said. “I am devastated beyond words and heartbroken for her family and everyone who loved her. Her valiant fight over the past several months was an inspiration to all of us, and her impact on the Stony Brook Athletics family will be felt for many years to come.”

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Jackie Brown sends the ball up the field. Photo by Carla Sciara

By Desirée Keegan

The relationship between a star player and a coach can sometimes be complicated, but when they’re immediate family members, a special bond is needed to achieve success.

Jackie Brown’s athletic career has been unique — her mother Deb Brown has been coaching her for five years in both field hockey and softball at Port Jefferson high school, and was her basketball coach for two years. Despite having her mother as coach, playing time and accolades were never handed to her.

Jackie Brown was Long Island's leading goal scorer, and led in overall points this season. Photo by Carla Sciara
Jackie Brown was Long Island’s leading goal scorer, and led in overall points this season. Photo by Carla Sciara

“If anything, she’s probably had to work even harder with me being her coach,” Deb Brown said. “I hold her to a higher standard, and I put more pressure on her than anyone else. For instance, in practice, she does the most push-ups.”

Brown recalled a game when her daughter had a one-on-one with a goalkeeper and she told her daughter to do one move, but she did another. “I’m yelling at her, and that’s when the parent in me comes out,” she said. “As beautiful as it was, the ball did not go in.”

Jackie Brown said the constant push has aided her success in sports, especially field hockey.

“It’s definitely interesting,” she said of their relationship, laughing. “Sometimes I tried to step over her and she puts me in my place, but what’s great is we got to talk about all of the games afterward whether it’s me saying something bad or her giving me something to work on. She teaches me new things every year.”

Brown first picked up a field hockey stick at 6 years old. From there, she became involved in clinics and played for East End Field Hockey travel team. She decided to try clinics in basketball and softball, too, and joined the Long Island Bandits fast-pitch travel softball team.

“Believe it or not I thought she would gear toward softball,” Deb Brown said. “But she just loved field hockey so much. It’s been fun watching her grow as a player.”

Jackie Brown said field hockey ran in her blood thanks to regular visits as a young girl to the field with her mother, who has been coaching at Port Jefferson for 27 years. She said the style of the sport felt like a fit for her.

“It wasn’t the sport everyone else was playing, and I liked how you had to move the ball a certain way and work with your teammates,” Jackie Brown said. “A lot I learned from field hockey, like field position and power, also helped me play softball and basketball.”

Speaking of power, the midfielder and forward has a strong shot, along with the knowledge of nuances needed to score, which helped her become Long Island’s leading goal scorer and leader in overall points this season.

Jackie Brown is hoisted up by the 2007 Royals field hockey team following the Long Island championship. Photo from Nancy Gallagher
Jackie Brown is hoisted up by the 2007 Royals field hockey team following the Long Island championship. Photo from Nancy Gallagher

“Besides just having a good shot — a hard hit and accurate — her ability to read the defense and the goalkeeper makes it much easier for her to get around them and beat them,” Port Jefferson assistant coach Nancy Gallagher said.

Gallagher is also in a special position. She played for Deb Brown and graduated from Port Jefferson in 2010. She first met Jackie when the coach’s daughter would come to games when Gallagher was a player. The assistant coach remembered the team hoisting her up on their shoulders following big wins, and the girls would teach her the tricks of the trade.

“She’d practice, and I’d tell her to do it 100 times in a row if she wanted to get better, and she was so eager to learn that she’d sit there on the sidelines doing it 100 times in a row,” Gallagher said. “She’s the ideal player to coach because not only does she have the athletic ability to pick up skills quickly, but she’s also willing to put in the time and energy to make it an instinctive part of her play.”

Gallagher said the athlete not only knows the skills, but she understands what skills are used when and why, and then how to put them to use.

Adelphi University field hockey head coach Gloria O’Connor saw each attribute Jackie Brown possesses — even the field hockey standout’s recent 6-inch growth spurt.

“Jackie has great size and feel for the game,” O’Connor said. “She is a daughter of a coach, and therefore knows the game of field hockey from a whole different perspective. She competes hard, has passion and desire and is always putting in extra practice time. She demonstrates the ability of taking care of business both on and off the field.”

The feeling of knowing the team wanted her, and the fact that Adelphi felt like a “home away from home,” led Brown to sign a letter of intent this November to play with the Panthers.

As a member of three high school teams, vice president of the Student Organization, co-president of the Varsity Club and a member of the Yearbook Club and National Honor Society, Brown knows what it means to put in the time to improve.

Jackie Brown is surrounded by her family as she signs her letter of intent to play field hockey for Adelphi University. Photo from Port Jefferson school district
Jackie Brown is surrounded by her family as she signs her letter of intent to play field hockey for Adelphi University. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

“It’s a lot to juggle when I go from one practice to the other, and then come home and do homework before going to another practice, but it’s manageable,” she said. “I learned how to be a leader on the field, work with my teammates and develop a strong work ethic.”

As Brown departs for college in 2017, her mother said she too may be hanging up her whistle at Port Jefferson. The head coach will receive a coach of the year award during the Suffolk County awards dinner, while her daughter will receive her second All-State honor and an All-Tournament nod following the No. 2-seeded Royals’ appearance in the Class C county finals.

Gallagher said the recognitions are well deserved, especially for her former coach.

“She’s very humble,” Gallagher said of Deb Brown. “No one can argue about how much she cares and dedicates herself to these girls and to this program. The success not only during these past couple of season but over her whole tenure shows it.”

Despite a hesitancy to talk about her daughter, Brown is even more proud of the success her daughter has had over the years than her own accolades.

“When I have to get the job done I do rely on her heavily to get the job done for Port Jeff,” Brown said. “I kind of downplay what she has accomplished over the years, but she’s worked very hard for this, and she deserves recognition. I’m probably retiring this year, so it’s bittersweet, but it’s great to go out with her after how well she’s done. I’m very proud of her. It’s been a heck of a ride.”

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