It could have been called Mercy Appreciation Day.
Although the activities surrounding the Bishop McGann-Mercy softball team’s home game against Center Moriches on Tuesday didn’t have an official designation, Mercy Appreciation Day would have been as good as any. Signs were made for the occasion, with green and gold balloons hung from fencing. The players were presented with home-plate-shaped plaques that included the words, “FOREVER A MONARCH.”
Then again, the Monarchs have been playing this entire season — their last season — in appreciation of the Riverhead Catholic school, which the Diocese of Rockville Centre will close at the end of the school year.
“We want to leave a legacy,” junior second baseman Julianna Betancourt said. “We want to make a mark. As the last Mercy softball team, we want to be the best that we can.”
When the news emerged in March that the diocese, citing low enrollment and financial factors, will close the school, it hit those who attend and work for Mercy hard. That included the softball team. Players have referred to Mercy as their home or second home.
Asked what this last season has been like, coach Rose Horton answered: “I’m going to use the word emotional. There has been lots of ups and downs. The girls have been really sad, they’ve been mad … I had a lot of angry players at practice and they didn’t understand, and I don’t think that they understand still, you know. It’s like an adult situation that they have to cope with as children.”
The Monarchs have been coping well enough to have secured a place in the playoffs. And although they didn’t win on Tuesday, they gave favored Center Moriches a battle before falling, 9-7.
Mercy’s pending closure has given the Monarchs a greater purpose for playing.
“We play for the people who don’t necessarily have the opportunity to play,” Horton said. “So, it’s a lot bigger than just themselves this year.”
After falling behind, 8-4, Mercy closed the deficit to one run in the fourth inning when Jordyn Stromski blasted an RBI double that took one bounce to the leftfield fence. She later scored, along with Gabby Jean, on an error, making it 8-7.
Center Moriches (12-7, 10-7 Suffolk County League VII) picked up its sixth straight win with the aid of a three-run burst in the third that made it 8-4. Gina Reese supplied a sacrifice fly, scoring Stefanie Stypulkoski, who had tripled. One out later, after Kaylie Roberts singled, Alyssa Morano singled as well. The ball skipped past an outfielder and they both scored.
Mercy (7-10, 7-9) outhit Center Moriches, 14-9. Stromski had three RBIs and Olivia Valle went 3-for-4 for Mercy.
Maddie Hujber had two RBIs for Center Moriches.
“It’s really special that we’re all able to spend the last season together and make the best of Mercy,” sophomore first baseman Jill Shackel said. “I think it brought us closer together and I think it makes us work harder because we want to show what we are and we want to be the best.”
Asked for her thoughts about the school, Horton, a former pitcher for the Monarchs herself, said: “I definitely have a lot of, I guess, sad emotion. I feel sad that I won’t have a high school to come back to, but I also feel sad for the teachers and students that it really affects. It’s kind of hard to put into words how I’m feeling about the situation, but I just know that I want the most for these girls, especially as the last Mercy softball team. I want them to realize the opportunity that they have in front of them and to make the best of it.”
Has Horton thought about what her team’s final game will be like?
“I’m sure we’ll have lots of tears, but I just hope that they’re happy tears and that the girls leave every single thing that they have out on the field,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
Photo caption: Bishop McGann-Mercy coach Rose Horton and her players during a pregame ceremony in which the Monarchs received home-plate-shaped plaques to remember the team’s final season by. (Credit: Bob Liepa)