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Softball

Coach Ken Eriksen with members of Team USA softball team. Photo by Jade Hewitt from USA Softball

Coached by 1979 Ward Melville High School graduate Ken Eriksen, Team USA softball team ran out of walk-off magic in the gold medal game Tuesday.

After coming from behind to beat Australia, 2-1, and then Japan by the same score in the last two games before the final, Team USA couldn’t rally to beat Japan in the gold medal game, falling 2-0.

Coach Ken Eriksen during practice with Team USA. Photo by Jade Hewitt from USA Softball

Eriksen, who had a successful college baseball career, has extensive softball coaching and playing experience, including as the current head coach of the University of South Florida for over 24 years. He has had several roles with the national team over the years, including as an assistant on the 2004 Olympic team that won gold in Athens. He became head coach of Team USA in 2011.

Members of the local athletic community expressed their admiration for the coach and his involvement at the Olympic games.

“For one of our former student athletes to be coaching on the highest stage possible in the world is something we’re so proud of,” said Kevin Finnerty, athletic director of the Three Village Central School District. Eriksen’s role shows “that our students, through hard work, effort and time can” reach their goals.

Joseph Burger, who has been coaching softball at Ward Melville for seven years, appreciated the connection between Eriksen and the high school.

“When you have a Ward Melville graduate coaching the Olympic team, that sheds a great light on the sport and what we’re trying to do here,” Burger said. “This is very positive for the program.”

Burger appreciated how Team USA showed sportsmanship at the end of the loss, which, he said, reflects well on the coach.

Burger, who posted the Team USA softball schedule on the high school softball team’s Instagram page, said the games set a great example for his players.

The Olympians are “aggressive toward the ball,” he said.

Rising Ward Melville junior third baseman and team captain Alicea Pepitone watched the gold medal game.

“They played their hearts out this whole series in the Olympics,” said Pepitone, who would like to play in college. “They should be proud, even though it didn’t go down the way they wanted it to.”

Pepitone thought it was “awesome” that Coach Eriksen attended Ward Melville. She recalls watching softball in the Olympics in 2008.

“I want to be one of those girls on that field and wearing that jersey,” she said.

Reached by email before the final game, Eriksen responded to TBR’s questions from Tokyo.

TBR: Who were some of your softball mentors growing up in Setauket?

Eriksen: My coaching mentors from Long Island were Russ Cain at Gelinas Junior High School and Coach Everett Hart. They were both tremendous teachers. They both taught the game, and you would never know you were up by 10 or down by 10. They treated and respected the game as it should be … a teaching platform for life.

TBR: Have you emulated any of the coaching patterns you observed as a player?

Eriksen: Most definitely. It’s all about the players’ ability to be prepared for any situation and trust them to react to the situations.

TBR: What is the best advice you received as a player?

Eriksen: Trust your preparation. Less is more.

TBR: Do you use that advice with the players on USA softball? 

Eriksen: Every day.

TBR: Is the sport of softball any different than it was during the age of Jennie Finch?

Eriksen: It’s more competitive worldwide now than it was prior to 2008. You can see that by the competition in the last four World Championships and the 2021 games.

TBR: Does the sport require any different skill sets?

Eriksen: Absolutely as it does comparatively to baseball.

TBR: How is USA softball any different from softball in the rest of the world?

Eriksen: The expectations sometimes are unrealistic in respect of not thinking it’s a global game.

TBR: Does your team or does the program emphasize specific skills that differentiate it from softball in the rest of the world?

Eriksen: Not really. Everyone spends an inordinate amount of time trying to be flawless.

TBR: What is different about coaching and playing?

Eriksen: It was easier to play! Only had to worry about me!

TBR: Have you had to learn different skill sets as a coach than you had as a player?

Eriksen: Obviously when you are dealing as a manager in any organization there is a “human hierarchy of needs” that each player presents to you as a coach. When you have a unit that is together for years, you better understand the people first.

TBR: Was it challenging to coach and play softball without anyone in the stands?

Eriksen: Not really. When you are locked into the moment, all noise is irrelevant in the heads of elite athletes.

TBR: Was the team able to provide the energy and excitement that the crowd might normally offer in the context of a more typical softball game or season?

Eriksen: We bring it every day regardless. That happens when you wear U-S-A on the front of your jersey.

TBR: What’s next after the Olympics?

Eriksen: For me … getting away from the spotlight. Won’t be hard. I love the “game,” but it’s a game. It’s not my whole life. The old saying … “gone fishing.”

Olivia Almodovar takes a cut for the Panthers in an extra inning 2-0 victory in the class A semi-final game against Islip. Photo by Bill Landon

It was a pitching duel in the Suffolk class A semi-final June 14 when Miller Place No. 2 hosted Islip No. 3 where the bats were muzzled most of the way that resulted in a scoreless game through seven innings. Miller Place pitcher Jessica Iavarone found herself in trouble in the top of the 8th of the extra inning game, when Islip loaded the bases with no outs.

If the threat of a possible season ending base hit rattled Iavarone she didn’t show it and appeared to throw harder under the pressure. The senior fanned the next three batters to retire the side unscathed.

When asked how she handled a possible season ending inning Iavarone said she felt little pressure. “Honestly what calms me is to just think that nobody’s on the field and there’s no one on base and to pitch how I know how to pitch”, the senior said. “I just threw as hard as I {could}.”

After a Julia Lent base hit, Madison Power laid down a perfect bunt moving Lent over to second and beat the throw to first. Amelia DeRosa stepped into the batter’s box who battled at the plate before the junior ripped a rope to straight away center for the game winning hit and was immediately mobbed at second base.

DeRosa described her game winning double this way, “I saw {the pitch} I hit it in the gap, I had a good feeling I felt confident who was on base,” the junior said. “I felt really good and the nerves just washed away.”

The Panthers are back home June 15 for a best of three game series against No. 5 Bayport. Game time is 4 p.m.

Photos by Bill Landon 

After a 23-month hiatus it was time to play ball Monday, May 3, when the Bulls of Smithtown West opened their softball season at home against Newfield.

The Wolverines struck first and took a three-run lead in the top of the fourth before Smithtown West retook the lead in the bottom of inning when Brook DaSilva’s bat drove in Hailey Cinquemani to take the first lead of the game. The Bulls scored what they thought was an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth before Newfield exploded in with four unanswered runs in the top of the seventh to win the game, 8-6.

Both teams are back in action May 5 when the Bulls travel to Huntington, and Newfield plays their home opener against North Babylon. Start times are 4 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. respectively.

Junior attack Xavier Arline drives to the cage for the Wildcats in the Suffolk Class C county final against Mount Sinai last year. With spring season cancelled, there will be no chance for a rematch. File photo by Bill Landon

High School seniors are normally under a lot of pressure come their last year of classes. It’s a time where students have to be thinking about where they want to go after graduation, what they want to do, all mixed in with a sense of finality to their grade school careers. For students involved in sports, it means the last season and the last chance they will have to take their team to county championships or maybe even states. 

Ward Melville second baseman Matt Maurer makes the scoop in a League I matchup against Central Islip last year. The team was hoping for even better this year, before the spring season was cancelled. File photo by Bill Landon

Then on April 22, Section XI made the announcement cancelling the spring sports season.

“After much discussion and consideration, the Athletic Council of Suffolk County has voted unanimously to cancel the spring sports season for 2020 at all levels,” Tom Combs, the Section XI executive director wrote in a statement. “The decision was not an easy one to make, however in what the world is experiencing at this time, it is the most prudent decision to make.”

With the cancellation of the spring sports season due to the ongoing pandemic, those same students now see any hopes of making it to playoffs dashed. Some teams, like the Ward Melville baseball team, might have been looking at their best season yet after making it to Suffolk County championships last year.

“Though we lost in the Suffolk County championship, the juniors were a big reason why they got there in the first place,” said Ward Melville baseball coach Lou Petrucci. “When we heard the news I talked to all the captains, and we talked to the seniors and juniors. They’re upset, but the spin we have to put on it is every time you play a baseball team you have to play it like it’s your last.”

Scott Reh, the Mount Sinai director of athletics, echoed the sentiment that the decision is going to most impact seniors, who he said the decision was “totally out of their control.” Though he and other athletic directors understood why it was done.

“At the end of the day, it’s very important because people are losing their lives, their jobs and the list goes on and on, “ Reh said. 

Mount Sinai girls lacrosse head coach Al Bertolone said his team has been “training every day since school closed,” and that he hosts video meetings with the team and individual groups daily. 

Though the news was hard, Bertolone said they had already participated in a car parade that ran past Mather and St Charles hospitals, which included the entire varsity team, parents, a fire truck, local police and some alumni as well.

“As far as we are concerned the games might have been canceled but our team is still going strong,” he said.

They are planning another car parade for Senior Day, May 14. 

Charles Delargey, the director of PE, health and athletics at the Rocky Point school district, said the girls lacrosse team hosted a senior parade for their 10 seniors last Saturday, and the boys lacrosse has plans to do something similar this weekend. 

Mount Sinai sophomore, then freshman Mackenzie Celauro slides home in game last year. File photo by Bill Landon

At 8:20 (20:20 military time) on Friday, May 1, districts will be turning on the lights and score board of their school football fields. The event is supposed to celebrate the sports teams in their 2020 season, with several schools planning live streams including comments from coaches.

In addition to several videos that coaches and students have put together, homes throughout the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District are displaying ‘Home of a Wildcat Senior 2020’ lawn signs to share in the school spirit. The district is also promoting the NYSPHSAA Mental Health Awareness Week from May 4-8 with social media messages. Plans are also in progress to honor all athletes at the annual athletic awards event which will be held virtually in the coming weeks. 

“Our coaches are in contact with our athletes to help to maintain optimistic attitudes and keep physically active during this time,” said SWR Director of Physical Education, Health, Athletics and Nurses Mark Passamonte.

School sports directors have been doing their best to keep spirits high. Adam Sherrard, the Port Jefferson School District athletic director, shared a video to his Twitter showcasing baseball players practicing, intercutting the video so it seemed the players were tossing the ball to each other.

Port Jeff is planning to host its regular sports ceremonies, including pictures of seniors in their uniforms in May and the signing ceremonies in June, but this time having to bring up each player individually for photos.

Indeed, practicing at home has become the new norm. Players have taken videos and pictures of themselves in their workouts and practices and posted such things to their coaches and teammates in phone messages and online.

Still, many students mourn the loss of their lost season — for some their last. As the bearer of bad news, coaches have done their best to offer consolation and hope for the future.

Matt DeVincenzo, the athletic director at Comsewogue School District, helped craft a video that was released Friday, April 24, on the district’s Facebook going through all the spring sports teams and specifically mentioning the graduating players, thanking them for all their hard work.

“Everyone’s pretty devastated,” DeVincenzo said. “Everyone saw the writing on the wall, and all the kids are affected, but our hearts really go out to the senior class. Unfortunately, they were robbed of last season in high school.” 

Port Jefferson senior Aidan Kaminski, then a junior, looks for an open lane last year during the Class D county final. He will not be able to finish his final senior season. File photo by Bill Landon

The unanimous decision from the Section XI board was a tough one, DeVincenzo said, but all acknowledged the impossibility of hosting sports during the ongoing pandemic.

But beyond the spring season, many still question what will happen in the summer, fall and winter.  All agree it’s still too early to tell.

For students participating in college sports, the National College Athletic Association said students graduating in spring will be eligible for collegiate scholarships as long as they still meet the course number requirements and show a 2.3 or higher GPA in those courses. The NCAA’s evaluations will not look at separate reviews of spring or summer distance learning during COVID-19 closures.

The question whether the coronavirus will impact sports in summer and fall is still up in the air, but with coaches not even aware if students will be back in school by the end of May, that question is leaning heavy on the minds of school athletics. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said April 24 he would later be announcing whether schools would remain closed, but as of press time has not yet made the decision. 

Delargey said when the news arrived last week, students were of course disappointed. On the other end, it was also a showcase of how students can show compassion.

“On a call with the softball team where the coach broke the news, after everyone spoke, one of our youngest kids on the team said to the seniors, ‘just want to let you know what an inspiration you’ve been to me.’” he said. “For a young kid to do that that’s amazing says what sports is all about.”

Photo by METRO

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

With sports on hold during the pandemic, I would like to borrow from the sports channels and share a collection of sports memories.

The singing pitcher 

My daughter was pitching against a heavily favored team. In the first inning, she walked in two runs. As the coach, I raced out to the mound to check on her. She was quietly singing a song to herself. I knew there was nothing I could say that would top whatever song was entertaining her. In the final play of the game, the batter hit a ground ball to her and she raced over to first base, where she placed the ball in the glove of her teammate, starting an unlikely victory celebration.

The basketball game where we almost covered the spread

Knowing from the standings that the basketball team I coached would struggle against a team that should have been in a different league, I told my team that if they kept the other team under 50 points and we scored 30, we would have a pizza party. At the end of the game, the other team scored 49 points. We had a chance, with one last shot, to reach 30. We didn’t make it, but the referees congratulated each player on our team for fighting till the end. If they only knew …

The stampede game 

In Cooperstown, I coached a town team of 12-year-olds against a team aptly named the Stampede. Hoping to confuse their 6-foot tall hitters, I chose our softest throwing pitchers. It worked early, as they only scored one run in the first inning. In the second inning, my son hit a home run, giving us a 2-1 lead. We lost 11-4, but our players and their parents couldn’t have been happier, as we were the first team to score more than one run in an entire game and were also the first team the Stampede didn’t mercy.

Tough as nails 

Even with a face mask on her softball helmet, the fastball that hit my daughter caused the mask to give her a bloody lip. The umpire said she could come out and return later. She refused help or attention and ran to first base. She stole second, third and home, and returned to the bench with a triumphant smile.

The tiny team that did 

My daughter was on a vastly undersized volleyball team that made it to the finals against a team that, in warm ups, pummeled balls into the ground. With my daughter anchoring the back row, the other team became frustrated that their hard hits didn’t win points. They tried hitting at different angles and further away from the defense, crushing balls just out. When my daughter served the last five points for the win, I joined a collection of elated parents as we screamed and threw our arms in the air. I briefly turned my head to hide the tears of pride welling in my eyes. 

The kid who was way ahead of his time 

When my son was in pee wee ball, he watched a lot of baseball  my fault. He played shortstop in a station-to-station game, in which each player moved up one base, regardless of where the ball went and whether someone got out. With the bases loaded, a player hit a line drive to my son at shortstop. He caught the ball, ran to third to get the runner who was jogging home and tagged the runner who approached him. After his unassisted triple play, he jogged off the field and dropped the ball near the pitcher’s mound. I had to explain to him that he didn’t play that way yet, but that he would, and hopefully will again, soon.

Daniel Dunaief

When I was younger, I was the best baseball player who ever lived. OK, maybe that’s a wee bit of an exaggeration. Maybe I was a decent player who had a few good games, surrounded by periods of agonizing ineffectiveness, miserable failure and frustrating inadequacies.

Baseball, as its numerous fans will suggest regularly, is a game of failure. And yet those exquisite moments of success — when we break up a no-hitter, get to a ball that seemed destined for open grass or develop the speed to outrun the laser throw from the outfield — make us feel as if we can do anything.

Recently, I have found myself frustrated beyond the normal measure of perspective because I feel as if I’ve lost a step or six when I play softball. My current athletic deficiencies seem to be a harsh reminder of the inexorable journey through time.

As I return from the game in the car, I sometimes bark questions at myself, wondering how I missed an easy pop-up, or how I lunged for yet another pitch I should have hit. My family, who comes to the games to support me, watches me dissolve into a puddle of self-loathing.

Yes, I know, it’s not my finest hours as a parent and I know I’m setting a terrible example. And yet something inside of me, which is both young and old, can’t control the frustration. I’m an older version of the kid who was so annoyed with his own deficiencies that he kicked a basketball over some trees. OK, maybe they were hedges and I probably threw the ball, but in my memory the offending orb traveled a great distance.

So, what was and sometimes is missing from my life that caused these games to be so important? Other than talent, conditioning, plenty of sleep and a commitment to practicing, my biggest problem was, and sometimes still is, a lack of perspective.

People suffer through much greater hardships than a decline in limited athletic skills. Life is filled with challenges and inspiration. People overcome insurmountable odds, push themselves far beyond any expectations by taking small steps for mankind or even small steps for themselves when they weren’t expected to walk at all.

As I know, I am fortunate in many ways to have the opportunity and time to play softball at all. To be sure, I recognize that perspective isn’t what people generally need when they care about something large or small: They need focus. Artists spending countless hours painting, writing, revising, editing or reshooting a scene for a movie to enable the reality of their art to catch up to their vision or imagination often lose themselves in their efforts, forgetting to eat, to call their parents or siblings, to sleep or to take care of other basic needs.

Considerable perspective could prevent them from finding another gear or producing their best work.

And yet perspective, particularly in a moment like a softball game, can soothe the escalated competitor and give the father driving a car with his supportive family a chance to appreciate the people around him and laugh about his inadequacies, rather than dwell on them.

In a movie, perspective often comes from a camera that climbs high into the sky or from someone looking through a window at his children playing in a yard or at a picture of his family in a rickety rowboat. Perhaps if we find ourselves tumbling down the staircase of anger, frustration or resentment, we can imagine handrails we can grab that allow us to appreciate what we have and that offer another way of reacting to life.

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Melissa Marchese proved herself in sports, was set to graduate June 28

Shoreham-Wading River senior forward Melissa Marchese battles in the paint Feb. 11. Photo by Bill Landon

A community that has become much too familiar to tragedy was left reeling June 14 as Melissa Marchese, 18, a Shoreham resident and senior at the high school passed from her injuries received in a car crash the day before.

Shoreham-Wading River senior Melissa Marchese During an April 22 Softball game. Photo by Bill Landon

Suffolk County police confirmed her death Saturday,  June 15.

Marchese’s father Charlie Marchese posted a lengthy eulogy on his Facebook page. He called his daughter “… brilliant, she was magnetic,” and said she fought long enough in order for doctors to donate her organs, something she had always wished to do.

“She would light up the room with her smile and make everybody burst with laughter,” Marchese’s father wrote. “Melissa was a remarkable athlete. Fierce, determined, and focused. Just try to slide into her at home plate or try to battle her for a rebound. She did not lose. She was a born leader in all facets of her life. Whether barking instructions on the softball field or leading her friends in a dance or a song, everyone would follow her. She did not lose.”

Marchese was in the backseat of a car turning left onto Route 25A from Miller Avenue June 13. The high school was having its senior honoring ceremony. Another vehicle, driven by Ridge resident Michael Troiano, 34, went through a red light and struck Marchese’s vehicle. The two other students in Marchese’s car, Evan Flannery, 17, and Caroline Tyburski, 18, both of Shoreham, were transported to St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson with non-life-threatening injuries. Marchese was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, where she died a day later.

The Shoreham-Wading River school district released statements Friday and Saturday.

Melissa Marchese battles Mount Sinai senior Gabby Sartori for a loose ball under the boards Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

“We extend our deepest condolences to the individual’s family and friends, and we continue to keep all those involved and impacted by this tragedy in our thoughts during this very difficult time,” the district wrote on its website.

Marchese was well known in the district for her work on the basketball court and the softball field.

Adam Lievre, Marchese’s basketball coach, said he would watch Marchese move around the court and be awed at her tenacity. It was that tenacity, he said, that had her fighting death until the time they could donate her organs.

“She was willing to throw her body anywhere and everywhere to get every rebound,” he said. “I’ve never coached a kid who wanted rebounds so badly, and she went after every ball with this relentless effort. It was contagious when the other kids saw how hard she worked, was an example she led on the court.”

He remembered two cases of her caring personality. One was on the court where she saw eighth-grader GraceAnn Leonard get knocked over, and she “sprinted” over to help her up. The other was in the locker room after the team’s heartbreaking playoff 42-41 loss against Sayville Feb. 12. 

“She was sitting right in front of me in tears, so emotional about losing but so thankful, she said how thankful she was to be a part of the team and how great it was,” Lievre said.

Marchese was known as a standout softball player in SWR, having been recognized as All-League in the Scholar-Athlete Team in March and was committed to the University of Hartford for softball.

Once it became known of Marchese’s hospitalization, a GoFundMe page was started, and within a day raised nearly $20,000. By Tuesday, June 17, the site had raised over $60,000.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Melissa and the Marchese family,” Joseph Dwyer, the GoFundMe organizer, wrote to the page. “Thank you all for your generous donations during this time of unthinkable sadness and utter despair. God Bless.”

The school district canceled senior finals June 14 and made mental health staff available. The district also invited students to the high school library Saturday for staff to support them.

Melissa Marchese. Photo from SWR School District

Shoreham has become well known for tragedies of this kind. In 2014 the community grieved for Tom Cutinella, who died due to a head injury on the football field. In 2018, the community wrapped hundreds of red ribbons on flagpoles to memorialize Andrew McMorris, who was killed by a drunk driver while out on a hike with his Boy Scout troop. 

The Andrew McMorris and Tom Cutinella memorial foundations both shared their condolences on their Facebook pages.

“No one should ever have to go through this,” a post to the Tom Cutinella Memorial Foundation Facebook page read.

Marchese’s wake will be held at Branch Funeral Home, located at 551 Route 25A in Miller Place, on June 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. and June 21 from 2 to 5 p.m. and at 7 to 9 p.m. Marchese’s funeral procession will leave the funeral home at approximately 9:30 a.m. on June 22. A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. at St. Mark’s R.C. Church, located at 105 Randall Road in Shoreham.

This article has been updated to reflect the name of the eighth-grader who Marchese helped up.

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Smithtown East’s softball team broke out to a two-run lead in the top of the first inning and West Islip answered back in the bottom of the inning in a Suffolk Class AA quarterfinal round May 22, but from there the Bulls bats went silent. West Islip crept ahead scoring a run in the third, fourth and sixth inning to win the game 5-2. In double elimination play the Bulls, the No. 5 seed, went to the loser bracket where they hosted No. 11 seed Lindenhurst the following day in a must win game to stay alive in the postseason.

The Bulls won out against Lindenhurst, and will face Bellport May 25 to see if they will move on in the bracket May 25 with start at 2 p.m.

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It’s been a long time since the Patriots softball team has made the playoffs and it all came down to the last game of the regular season at home against Sachem East on senior day.. It would take extra innings to decide the game but Ward Melville punched their ticket to make the postseason on a passed ball in the bottom of the ninth, winning the game, 8-7.

According to head coach Joseph Burger, the Patriots last postseason appearance was back in 2002. Ward Melville senior Kristina Maggiacomo went the distance for the win, pitching nine complete innings striking out six. Maggiacomo had two RBI’s on two hits and eighth-grader Alicea Pepitone drove in two runs on three hits.

At 8-8 in Suffolk league I, the Patriots will be a low seed and have their work cut out for them as there are four out-bracket games May 18 with the opening round of the playoffs Monday, May 20.

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Smithtown East managed a one-run lead after the opening inning, but the North Babylon bats came alive in the top of the second, scoring three and from there the Bulls’ bats went silent. North Babylon plated two in the top of the fifth as Smithtown East scored a run in the bottom of the second, but it was too little too late as the Bull’s fell 6-3 in a home game May 14.

The bright spot for the Bulls was Sammi Swenson, who ripped a homer over the centerfield fence driving in a run. With the win North Babylon stays atop the League III leaderboard with West Islip in second place and at 11-4 the Bulls are third, two games back.

Smithtown East plays its final game of the regular season May 16 where they’ll host Newfield before they ready their bats for postseason play. Game time is set for 4 p.m.