10/12/13 2:59pm
10/12/2013 2:59 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Former Riverhead softball players came together for an alumni game Saturday afternoon at Stotzky Park. The “gray” team won 9-8.

It doesn’t take much for a former athlete’s competitive juices to start flowing again. Never mind how long it’s been since the uniform was last buttoned up.

A competitor never loses that fire.



“If you’re a competitor, you’re a competitor all the way through,” said Bob Fox, the recently retired varsity softball coach at Riverhead.

Take for example Catherine Dillingham.

A 2005 Riverhead graduate who played four years of varsity softball for the Blue Waves, Dillingham sprinted around the bases, dove on the dirt and chased down baserunners Saturday morning as if it was a championship game.

“She’s got the most fire,” said Dillingham’s teammate, Melissa Edwards, after an alumni softball game at Stotzky Park. “She can’t mess up, because then she freaks out.”

Dillingham’s energy and Edwards’ bat helped the “gray” team to a 9-8 victory over the “white” team Saturday in an entertaining, well-played game featuring more than a dozen former Blue Waves players from the last decade.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Catherine Dillingham (’05) played shortstop for the gray team.

That Dillingham, the gray team’s shortstop, still had the competitive fire came as no surprise to Fox.

“She hated making an error, hated making a mistake,” Fox said of Dillingham’s high school career. “There are lot of girls like that.”

Early in the game Dillingham stood in the batter’s box, her bat raised as she waited for the pitch from Fox – who was the designated pitcher for both teams. Dillingham let the pitch go and the umpire yelled “strike!”

Dillingham fired back a disapproving look.

“First warning!” the umpire countered, later joking that Dillingham was the only player who had to be warned.

In the 8th inning at shortstop, Dillingham snagged a line drive just off the top of the dirt. Seeing that the runner at first was caught between the bases, Dillingham sprinted toward her to apply the tag rather than throw it.

“Have you seen her throws all day?” Edwards quipped.

For nearly all the women, it had been a long time since they last played a softball game.

“That’s the first time a ball’s been hit to me in God knows how long,” said Dillingham, who played softball in college at Mount St. Mary’s.

There was one notable exception: the white team’s star shortstop, Jackie Zilnicki. A three-sport standout at Riverhead, Zilnicki faced a constant besiege of playful ribbing.

“Who invited you Zilnicki!?” one player yelled.

“How is she still good? wondered another.

Yet another player described her as “like a magnet.”

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead softball coach Bob Fox was the designated pitcher for both teams.

At shortstop, Zilnicki smoothly scooped up nearly every ball hit her way. And at the plate, her powerful lefty bat forced almost the entire team to shift into right field when she stepped into the box.

“She’s fresh out of college, though” Dillingham wryly noted.

“It’s a little unfair,” said Edwards, who was a catcher at Springfield College for four years after graduating from Riverhead in 2001. Edwards, a coach at Pierson High School, launched a two-run home run to left field early in the game and just missed hitting another later in the game.

At Riverhead, Zilnicki was one of the top athletes to come through the school in the last decade. A two-time recipient of the News-Review’s Athlete of the Year award, Zilnicki played basketball and softball at Western Connecticut State University, where she graduated in 2012. As a senior, Zilnicki was honored as the Female Athlete of the Year at Western Connecticut, batting .477 on the softball team with 45 runs batted in.

Every time she stepped to the plate Saturday, everyone stood on their toes expecting Zilnicki to hit a bomb. She just missed a three-run home run in the seventh when she launched a ball off the right-field fence.

Fox said Zilnicki was the type of player who could play any position as a Blue Wave.

“Overall I think Jackie was the best player [I coached],” he said.

Zilnicki had a chance to end the game with one swing in the bottom of the ninth when she came up with the bases loaded and two outs, her team down by two runs. She singled in one run, but that was as close as her team would get.

The alumni game, which is expected to become an annual event, had been something talked about for the past few years, Fox said. After deciding to retire after last season to spend more time with his grandchildren, Fox figured this would be the ideal time to start.

And he wanted it to have a purpose. So this year’s event was also a fundraiser to purchase two automated external defibrillators for the high school softball teams.

Fox said even though most schools have a trainer and AEDs on school grounds, even a slight delay can be the difference between life and death.

“If you get hit in the chest with a ball, you got two minutes,” he said. “We want to try to protect our kids more.”

Fox said the AEDs would be donated to the school on the stipulation that they be used by the softball teams in the spring. In the other seasons, the school can use them at its discretion, he said.

“Mr. Fox has done a lot for us and the program at Riverhead for years,” Edwards said. “To come out and support him, that’s huge I think.”


10/05/13 12:00pm
10/05/2013 12:00 PM
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO  |  Riverhead shortstop Danielle Napoli applies the tag at second base on a Bay Shore runner Wednesday in the Class AA quarterfinals.

DANIEL DE MATO FILE PHOTO | Riverhead shortstop Danielle Napoli applies the tag at second base on a Bay Shore runner last spring in the playoffs.

A Riverhead High School alumni softball game will be held Oct. 12 at Stotzky Park with proceeds going toward the purchase of portable automated external defibrillators for the varsity and JV softball teams.

The event is sponsored by Riverhead Little League and begins at 10 a.m. Any former Riverhead softball player is encouraged to participate. A $20 registration fee per player includes a T-shirt. The game will be nine innings on Field 4 at Stotzky Park. Helmets and catchers equipment will be provided.

For more information and to register, visit the event’s Facebook page. The rain date is Oct. 13.

09/20/13 3:00pm
09/20/2013 3:00 PM

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | A reunion of the R.M. Blockbusters and R.M. Masonettes — two softball teams in Riverhead — brought people together last Saturday for a barbecue.

On summer nights in a bygone era, crowds of spectators would descend on the softball fields at Stotzky Park. They would line the fences to catch a glimpse of the action, to see players like “Skeeter” chase down fly balls and sprint around the bases.

In Riverhead, no one was faster than Skeeter.

“Didn’t you run like a 9.5, 9.6?” Greg Mack asked Waverly “Skeeter” Atkins, referring to the 100-yard dash in track.


“9.4,” Skeeter clarified as he manned the barbecue, flipping burgers and grilling hot sausage as the sun shone down Saturday afternoon.

On this day, two decades removed from their playing days, the R.M. Masonettes and R.M. Blockbusters gathered for their third annual reunion in Riverhead. At a cookout block party on Hinda Boulevard, they shared stories, joked with one another about who had been the best player, and remembered the man who started it all: Roy Mack Sr.

They all once played modified fast-pitch softball, the Masonettes, a team of women, and the Blockbusters, of men. Beginning in 1979 and continuing through the next decade, the two teams were at the forefront of a widely popular softball league.

“We were champs all 10 years,” said Cynthia Mack, one of Roy and Bernice Mack’s nine children. “Our rivalry was Allied Optical. Our last year, when we were ready to fizzle out, that was the first time we lost.”

Cynthia played in the infield (second base) along with her sisters Charlene Crump (third base) and Cheryl Atkins (first base). Dottie Lewis played shortstop.

While the former team members’ athletic days have passed, they’ve continued the tradition, set by Roy and Bernice, of giving back to the community by forming Our Future Generation, an organization whose goal is to “encourage, uplift and promote our youth to become better citizens in their communities.”

The organization annually donates the $500 Roy Mack Sr. Memorial Scholarship to a Riverhead High School student who is pursuing higher education.

This year’s recipient, Wesley Wheeler, a 2013 graduate, was on hand Saturday for the festivities.

“It helps out a lot,” Mr. Wheeler said, “even if it’s small, because books cost a lot.”

Mr. Wheeler attends Suffolk County Community College, he said, in liberal arts and plans to transfer after a year to Farmingdale State College to pursue a psychology degree.

A new youth group, called The Future Generation, was recently formed to complement Our Future Generation. The new organization’s goal is to help the community and learn what it takes to run an organization. They’ve already run a bake sale and a car wash as fundraisers. The youngest member is 8 years old and the oldest, 18-year-old Shaiquaisha Mack, who just graduated from Riverhead High School, is a great-granddaughter of Bernice and Roy Mack. Shaiquaisha is president of the group.

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | Members of The Future Generation, led by president Shaiquaisha Mack (left), at Saturday’s barbecue.

“We said ‘OK, what do you want to do with your group?’<\!q>” Cynthia Mack said. “So they said they want to visit senior citizens, help the community with different things like cleanup.”

Roy Mack Sr., a longtime Riverhead mason who served in World War II, formed the two softball teams and coached the Blockbusters. “Daddy Mack,” as he was known, was remembered Saturday, with everyone wearing T-shirts with his face on the front. “Daddy Mack” died in 2008 but not before leaving a lasting imprint on his family and the entire community.

“He trained us well,” said Gwen Mack, oldest of the nine children. “We couldn’t go any place on a Saturday morning until the yard was raked and cleaned.”

Roy Mack’s son Greg Mack was the noted power bat in the league for the Blockbusters, setting records for home runs.

“I used to hit the home runs,” he said. “A long time ago.”

Nowadays he watches his grandson, a seventh-grader in Riverhead, play lacrosse.

“That’s the big thing now,” said Greg, who played in the outfield, first base and as pitcher for the Blockbusters.

As part of the yearly reunions, the former players would love to get back out on the field, to form two teams and toss the ball around for old time’s sake. Finding enough players willing to lace up their cleats has proved challenging.

“It’s hard to get people out of retirement,” Cynthia Mack said.

As the sausage sizzled on the grill Saturday, Greg Mack and Skeeter reminisced. Greg succinctly summed up the origin of Skeeter’s nickname: “Because he’s fast,” he said.

“Used to be,” Skeeter responded. “You’re talking almost 40 years now.”

Joe Werkmeister is the web editor of Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at joew@timesreview or 298-3200, ext. 228.

07/26/13 10:00am
07/26/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Terry Contracting of Riverhead began work on the new girls softball field at McGann-Mercy High School a couple weeks ago. The team previously played at Stotzky Park.

Contractors are in the final stages of building a new softball field at McGann-Mercy High School, funded entirely by parent and alumni donations, said Bob Terry of Terry Contracting, a member of Mercy’s Class of 1977.

His company began working on the field about a month ago and plans to have it finished by September.

Mercy softball players had previously been bused to nearby Stotzky Park for practices and games, taking up a good portion of practice time, said Debbie Kneidl, the school’s director of advancement.

By practicing on campus, students will have an additional 45 minutes, she said. The new field will also save the private school the cost of transporting students.

The school, which has junior high, junior varsity and varsity teams, may still need to use Stotzky Park for practices when games are scheduled at the school, Ms. Kneidl said.

“It’s going to allow students to play on their home campus, which enhances overall school pride for the kids,” she said.

The project, which involved filling in 17,000 square feet of wetlands, is closely connected to the schools recently completed pond remediation project, which added 53,000 square feet of wetlands, according to project architect Shawn Leonard.

The additional wetland space made adding the field possible, he said.

Acquiring field space had been a problem for Mercy before to the pond remediation project, Mr. Terry said.

The school needed approval from both Riverhead Town and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Ms. Kneidl said.

Project foreman Mike Jones said his team is working on leveling the area and adding drainage before either seeding grass or, if sufficient funds can be raised, laying down sod so students can use the space sooner.

Ms. Kneidl said the project would not have been possible without alumni and community support. Anyone who would like to get involved should contact her by calling 631-727-5900.


05/22/13 9:25pm
05/22/2013 9:25 PM

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead shortstop Danielle Napoli applies the tag at second base on a Bay Shore runner Wednesday in the Class AA quarterfinals.


The No. 8 Riverhead Blue Waves were eliminated from the Suffolk County Class AA softball quarterfinals, dropping a 3-0 decision to top-seeded and host Bay Shore on Wednesday afternoon.

Bay Shore right-hander Michelle DeVito allowed two hits, struck out 11 batters and walked only one at Jim McGowan Field at the Fifth Avenue Elementary School.

Kali Alzate went 2-for-3 with a solo home run in the fourth inning for Bay Shore.

Only five Riverhead players reached base as Stephanie Falisi doubled with two out in the second inning. Sara Tucci had the other hit. Danielle Napoli twice got on via errors and starting pitcher Amanda Graziano walked as the Blue Waves finished at 15-6.

The Marauders (20-1) will host fourth-seeded Hauppauge in the semifinals on Friday.

05/22/13 12:00pm

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Brittany Mahan of Shoreham-Wading River receiving a throw to get Sayville’s Emily Sellitti out.


To stop a softball team like Sayville, you just might have to be perfect. After all, the Golden Flashes are the defending New York State Class A champions.

For three-plus innings on Tuesday afternoon, Shoreham-Wading River senior right-hander Chelsea Hawks was perfect, mowing down the opening 10 batters before the fourth-seeded Golden Flashes took advantage of some imperfect play by the No. 5 Wildcats and some errors to break through for a 4-0 home win in the Suffolk County Class A Tournament first-round game.

“We gave them four outs every inning, which didn’t help,” said a tearful Hawks, who played in her final high school game. “And it wasn’t our game.”

For the third year in a row, Sayville (18-3) eliminated Shoreham (16-3) from the playoffs.

“We had been playing pretty good and we thought we had a pretty good shot,” Hawks said. We played them last year … and beat them twice during the season. I knew we had a shot, definitely. We just had to play our game and make every play, which we didn’t do.”

Shoreham coach Christina Shiffman agreed.

“They’re definitely a quality team with quality hitters,” she said. “On the mound, even though they had four runs on the board, Chelsea on every single pitch, we had to be careful with all batters because they have a great hitting team. You have to be close to perfect and I think it helps to score first and that’s what we were going for in there.”

Sayville scored first as it the hosts took advantage of just about every mistake — large and small.

“They definitely did,” Hawks said. “We made an error and they took it to their advantage. So, we gave it to them, completely.”

Hawks (15-2) was unhittable through the first 10 hitters, striking out five, including the side in the third inning. With one out in the fourth, Sayville second baseman Jess Griffin tried a bunt that third baseman Alex Hutchins threw over the head of first baseman Erin Whelan. Griffin wound up at second.

“At that point, we were just trying to get something going, put the ball in play, making them make plays,” Sayville coach Brittany Rowan said.

After retiring Cindy Griffin on an infield pop-up, Hawks walked Kristen Bricker. Olivia Kaczmarak singled in Griffin and Crissy Malone drove in Bricker with another single for a 2-0 lead.

“Chelsea Hawks is an absolutely phenomenal pitcher,” Rowan said. “We knew that we were going to have to make some adjustments at the plate. We went one-two-three for the first, second and third inning. They learned from their at-bats. They went up and they started driving the ball.”

The hosts added a run in the fifth inning as Emily Sellitti singled, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jess Griffin’s single. With two out in the sixth and Malone on second with a double, the Wildcats twice allowed catchable pop-ups to fall in foul territory, giving Kerry Keehan a lifeline and two extra opportunities to lash a run-scoring single to center.

“Unfortunately, that’s the way the momentum goes sometimes, not in our favor,” Shiffman said. “In practice and every time we talk to them, we stress to them how important it is to play as perfect as we can and make no errors. Sometimes it can be contagious, and unfortunately, that’s what happened.”

Sayville junior right-hander Julia Simpson (12-2) was quite effective, limiting the Wildcat to only one hit — by Brittany Mahan in the first inning. Hutchins managed to reach base three times — all on errors. Simpson struck out four batters and walked one.

“We just didn’t hit,” Hawks said. “We can’t win with no hits.”

Simpson got the start because Amanda Eremita had a 101-degree fever.

“She’s filling in some big shoes from last year,” Rowan said of Simpson. “I’m so proud of what she’s done throughout the whole year.”

If Sayville has any aspirations of repeating as a state champion, Rowan hasn’t talked about it.

“We never talk about one game, anything in the future,” she said. “It’s always who we’re playing. We only focus on that. We don’t look ahead. To tell you the truth, I don’t look ahead. People are asking me, ‘When’s the next game?’ I don’t know. I’m very superstitious. We don’t look ahead to the future or to the past. What we did was nice, but it doesn’t help us get to where we need to get today.”

The Golden Flash’s next game is against top-seeded Miller Place in the semifinals on today.

“They can go far,” Shiffman said. “They can beat anyone in Suffolk County. I think they can be competitive. If they don’t win, they’ll give every team a run for their money.”

05/20/13 8:42pm
05/20/2013 8:42 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead left fielder Sarah Freeborn makes a leaping, one-handed grab to save two runs in the first inning of Monday’s playoff game against Smithtown West.


The ball came scorching off the bat of Smithtown West center fielder Teresa Staiano, a lined shot into left field. Two runs had already scored for the Bulls in the opening inning Monday and two more runners were steaming toward home.

The Smithtown fans erupted in anticipation, fully expecting the ball to drop beyond the grasp of Riverhead left fielder Sarah Freeborn.

With only a split second to react, Freeborn darted on an angle to her left, leaped with both feet and threw her glove into the air, hoping for the best. The ball jammed directly into her mitt as Freeborn landed with a precious third out, saving the Blue Waves from what could have been a disastrous first inning.

“My ups finally came in use for something,” said Freeborn, who’s one of the shorter players on Riverhead’s roster.

After Freeborn’s catch, the Blue Waves’ offense quickly went to work, striking for three runs in the first inning in an 11-6 Class AA first round playoff victory at Riverhead High School.

It took a team effort for the eighth-seeded Blue Waves, who got key contributions from every spot in the lineup, plus some defensive gems like Freeborn’s.

“She saved my life,” Riverhead pitcher Amanda Graziano said of Freeborn’s first-inning grab.

The Blue Waves scored four runs in both the third and fourth innings to build an eight-run lead.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Alex McKillop eludes the tag of Smithtown catcher Carissa Kinsella at home plate in the third inning for the Blue Waves’ fourth run.

The win sends the Blue Waves into the quarterfinals Wednesday against top-seeded Bay Shore, 6-0 winners Monday against Centereach. Bay Shore has been a perennial power in softball with five county titles since 2004.

If the Blue Waves can pull out a win against Bay Shore, they would advance into the semifinals, which begins the double-elimination portion of the bracket. A loss Wednesday would mark the end of the season.

For the Blue Waves (16-5), getting to the playoffs has been the goal from day one. After finishing tantalizingly close from the postseason a year ago, the Blue Waves knew they had the talent to get it done this year with so many players returning, including their ace Graziano.

“It was our No. 1 goal to make the playoffs,” Graziano said. “To have a home game and to win the first round really means a lot because it hasn’t been done since we were freshmen and we lost in the first round. To make it past is really great.”

The Mercy College-bound Graziano has been the starting pitcher for the Blue Waves each of the past three seasons since Riverhead’s last playoff appearance.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead shortstop Danielle Napoli fields a grounder, eyes closed, in Monday’s playoff victory.

She faced some early adversity as the Blue Waves fell behind early in part from some defensive miscues. But Graziano persevered, and aside from one rough inning in the sixth when the Blue Waves were comfortably ahead, she threw well enough to send the Blue Waves into the next round.

In the second inning Graziano struck out third baseman Kayla McCoy for her 100th strikeout of the season.

The Bulls (13-7) tried to mount a rally in the sixth when the first five runners reached base, capped by a two-run double to left by McCoy. The Bulls had runners on second and third with no outs.

“She toughed through it,” said Riverhead coach Bob Fox. “That’s what counts. Get through it.”

Graziano retired the next three Smithtown batters, sparked by a nice grab at first base by Alex McKillop on a line drive.

After the game ended, Graziano distributed cupcakes to teammates, gathered her equipment and quickly headed for home; a concert awaited her later in the evening. Graizano plays the cello in the orchestra.

The Blue Waves have now won seven of their last eight games, hitting their stride at just the right time.

The offensive eruption was just what Fox was waiting to see from his team.

“Today they all hit together,” Fox said. “This is the first time they all got together.”

Freeborn had a big day at the plate with 2 doubles and 3 RBIs batting in the eight hole. Her third-inning double to right-center brought two runs home and extended Riverhead’s lead to 7-2.

“It was an outside pitch and I hit outside really well,” Freeborn said.

The six-seven-eight hitters combined for 6 RBIs in the win. Junior Stephanie Falisi drove in a pair of runs, including one on a double in the fourth inning. Sophomore Karla Vanston crushed a ball to center field in the third inning to bring home a run on a double.

The Blue Waves did all their damage against Smithtown starter Melissa Kostev, who suffered a bruised lower lip when a ground ball up the middle bounced into her face.  Kostev was down for several minutes, but didn’t come out of the game.

Freeborn delivered the final RBI of the night for Riverhead in the inning when she doubled to center to make it 11-3.

“I felt good today,” Freeborn said.

So too did her teammates.


05/18/13 3:00pm
05/18/2013 3:00 PM

RIVERHEAD COURTESY PHOTO | Riverhead senior Amanda Graziano, joined by her parents Diane and John, signed to play softball next year at Mercy College. Joining her for the signing ceremony were (from left) principal David Wicks, assistant coach Dave McKillop, coach Bob Fox, guidance counselor Chris Martin, and athletic director Bill Groth.

After guiding the Riverhead softball team into the postseason and finishing just shy of a league title, Riverhead senior Amanda Graziano inked another college scholarship this week when she officially singed to play softball next year at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

Graziano already signed to play field hockey in college earlier this year.

“When I went to the campus, I fell in love with the school,” Graziano said. “It’s right on the Hudson River, so it’s really beautiful. I fell in love with both teams and the coaches and the fact that I could play both sports was really attractive to me.”

A standout pitcher, Graziano pitched the Blue Waves to a 15-5 season and the No. 8 seed in the Class AA playoffs. Riverhead opens the postseason Monday against Smithtown West. The Blue Waves finished a game behind Half Hollow Hills West and Hauppauge in League IV.

Against Deer Park in the regular season finale, Graziano raised her season strikeout total to 99.

“Three years ago we got to the playoffs, but lost the first game,” Graziano said. “This year, I really want to win that first game. I also want to pitch one more strikeout, so I can reach 100 strikeouts.”

Graziano has been a three-year starter on the mound for Riverhead.