Three games do not make a season, but Riverhead High School coach Jackie Zilnicki already sees a difference in her team from last year.
And perhaps the most striking difference came in a loss and not necessarily in the Blue Waves’ two wins.
In the March 27 encounter, Bay Shore grabbed a 2-0 lead, as Riverhead battled back to make its foes sweat in what turned into a 4-3 Blue Waves loss. Last year Bay Shore rolled to a pair of wins — 12-6 and 11-0 — over Riverhead in Suffolk County League III.
What impressed Zilnicki was the way the Blue Waves refused to give up.
“As a team you can either crumble or you can fight back and we fought back,” she said. “It was great to see the outcome, 4-3. We just played solid defense. We had some key hits from the bottom of the lineup where sometimes against a team like that you’re not going to get hits from the bottom of the lineup. But we produced. We didn’t give up.”
Zilnicki related a play about sophomore pitcher Katie Lysogorski when she dove to catch a pop-up and then threw to second base to double up a runner.
“I saw a lot of heart from the girls, especially on that play,” she said. “They wanted to win, but they were proud of themselves for hanging with Bay Shore. I think it said a lot for the program and the direction we’re going.”
Starting off the season on the right foot has been important to the Blue Waves (2-1), whose goal is to qualify for the Class A playoffs after finishing 6-14 last year.
“Our goal is to win 12 games,” Zilnicki said. “Last year there were six games we should have won. This year it’s a different team. They’re working hard every day … They know they can’t choose to show up one day … to turn on their focus and competitiveness on game day. They have to come every day, working hard. We’ve been improving every day. That’s what’s going to make us successful.”
The early hitting stars have included first baseman Brooke McKay, who went 3-for-4 with a home run and 4 RBIs in a 12-1 win over Copiaque on opening day on March 22. Two days later, she went 2-for-4 with a triple and an RBI in a 5-4 victory over Center Moriches.
“Brooke had a strong bat last year,” Zilnicki said. “This year she started off strong. She’s making solid contact, a lot of line drives. She had her first home run the other day. That was great for her to see because she has been putting in the work all throughout the year. Seeing that pay off in the game, that’s what you want to see.”
Third baseman Allyson O’Kula and catcher Ashley Columbus are hitting above .450.
“They’re off to strong starts, too,” Zilnicki said. “It’s good to see them hitting. Last year it took a while for us to get our bats going. To see our bats going early in the season, that’s great.”
Zilnicki also has been encouraged by the play of Lysogorski, who is also the Blue Waves’ lead-off hitter. “She’s a newcomer, but she’s a big impact player,” she said.
Shortstop Casey Dunbar, another sophomore, also has made herself felt offensively and defensively. “She already has made an impact on the team,” Zilnicki said.
Needless to say, the Blue Waves were disappointed their Monday home game against Longwood was postponed due to snow, a rarity in April.
“We were ready to play,” Zilnicki said. “It has been tough with the weather, having to have indoor practices. At least we got two weeks of good weather. So, it just makes it tough, when you have two or three games a week and you have to reschedule.”
But if Riverhead keeps winning, playing several games a week won’t be a problem.
“We are in a very competitive league,” Zilnicki said. “Every game matters. We want to make playoffs. We can’t have those games like last year where we lost by one or two runs. We want to be great every day. We’ve had an awesome season already, a great start. And I look forward to the season.”