WILDCATS 4, KNIGHTS 0
In the early part of her career, Chelsea Hawks didn’t fully appreciate the value of ice. Now as a junior for Shoreham-Wading River and in her third year as the starting pitcher for the Wildcats, Hawks knows every bit helps to stay strong over a long season.
“I ice after every game, which helps me a lot,” she said after throwing a shutout against John Glenn Thursday afternoon.
Hawks started every game for Shoreham this season and pitched all but two to their entirety. It’s been a heavy workload, but through it all, Hawks has emerged stronger than ever.
In the Wildcats’ final seven games, they’ve given up a total of four runs. They’ve gone 6-1 in that stretch, the only loss coming 1-0 against Miller Place.
“Her velocity has even been improving from the beginning of the season,” said Shoreham coach Christina Shiffman. “She’s really found her groove in the last few games. She’s throwing hard, hitting her spots and just being smarter with whatever the situation is.”
Hawks struck out 11 against Glenn (1-19) while giving up three hits and no walks in the 4-0 victory at Shoreham-Wading River High School. The Wildcats finished the regular season 13-6 in League VI and 14-6 overall. Thanks to their surge at the end of the season, they’ll likely end up as the No. 4 seed in the Class A playoffs to earn a home playoff game Wednesday.
To prepare for the heavy workload in the circle, Hawks said she does a lot of conditioning work. During the offseason she also worked on fine-tuning her mechanics to put less strain on her arm. The work has paid off this season.
“I have my coach and all winter we worked on changing everything up so I had a more fluid motion that wouldn’t affect my arm and hurt it as much,” Hawks said.
And when hitters have put the ball in play, the defense behind Hawks has been solid.
“We’re able to back her up,” Shiffman said. “Not only are we confident having Chelsea on the mound, but she’s definitely confident having defense behind her.”
Hawks said having a strong defensive group behind her makes her job that much easier.
“I feel a lot more confident and I can just pitch,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about errors or anything else like that.”
Hawks’ game has even improved at the plate. She came into the season batting ninth in the order. Against the Knights she was batting fifth behind catcher Maddie Massa.
Hawks even hit her first career home run earlier this season against Eastport-South Manor, which she admitted was unexpected.
“Last year I wasn’t really on top of my game,” Hawks said. “This year I tried to prove myself and kind of did.”
The Wildcats weren’t on top of their games offensively Thursday, lofting too many balls in the air for easy outs. But with Hawks dominating in the circle, they didn’t need much offense.
Third baseman Alex Hutchins tripled home the Wildcats’ first run in the third inning. Shortstop Brittany Mahan drove her in with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
Hutchins smacked the ball all over the field. She went 2-for-3 and her one out in the fifth inning came on a spectacular sliding catch by the center fielder to rob her of a third hit.
“She started off the season great,” Shiffman said. “Her timing’s been a little bit off the last few games but today I think was a really good day for her. I think it was a big confidence booster.”
First baseman Alyssa Stalzer made it 4-0 in the sixth inning when she hit a double to left-center.
Stalzer was one of two seniors honored before the game along with Massa. Stalzer joined the varsity as a junior last season. She became a starter this season and has taken over first base, playing it “like she played it her whole life,” assistant coach Ed Price said before the game.
Massa has played varsity since her freshman season and has been a vocal leader on the team, even earning a captain role as a junior.
“She takes charge and leads by example,” Shiffman said.
The Wildcats opened the week with a 3-1 win at league-leading Sayville. It was their second victory against the Golden Flashes this season. Last year Sayville knocked the Wildcats out of the playoffs.
“We have a sense of urgency when we play them,” Shiffman said. “Unfortunately and fortunately, we tend to play to the level of the opposing team.”
“When we play the good teams we rise up,” Hawks added.
Now they’ll take aim at rising up in the playoffs in pursuit of a county title.