The Riverhead High School softball team had accomplished a lot, largely on the strength of Julia Morrow’s right arm. A 13-game winning streak led to the League IV championship, the Blue Waves’ first league title since 1976. And there was the promise of more to come as the Blue Waves entered the playoffs as the fourth-seeded team in the Suffolk County Class AA Tournament.
But not even Morrow’s arm — and 17 strikeouts — were enough for the Blue Waves on Friday when their season came to a teary-eyed end.
Despite a 17-strikeout performance by Morrow, Riverhead was upset by the No. 13 Centereach Cougars, 2-0, in a first-round game. A two-run double into the left-center-field gap by Roxanne De Cosimo with two out in the sixth inning scored the only runs in the game at Riverhead High School. The inning had started with a walk by Michelle Burnett and a bunt single by Jaclyn Binstock. After Morrow struck out the next two batters, De Cosimo connected on a 1-0 fastball down the middle of the plate for the big hit.
Riverhead coaches consoled crying players after what Riverhead Coach Bob Fox called the most emotional loss he has experienced with the team.
“What could have been, should have been, would have been, didn’t happen,” he said.
Meanwhile, Centereach (12-9) had a lot to celebrate. Centereach, which forfeit a game to Riverhead (17-4) during the regular season, qualified for the playoffs for the second straight year after reaching the postseason last year for the first time since 1999. But the Cougars saw their season reach an end on Tuesday with a 1-0 quarterfinal loss to the No. 5 Sachem East Flaming Arrows (17-4).
“This is the best victory we ever had,” De Cosimo, a senior second baseman in her sixth varsity season, said after the win over Riverhead. “This is the greatest game I ever played in my life.”
It was the 10th win in 12 games for Centereach, which bounced back from a 2-6 start this season. What changed for the Cougars after that 2-6 start?
“We were just tired of losing,” said De Cosimo.
De Cosimo’s clutch double was one of only three hits Centereach managed off of Morrow (17-4), a senior right-hander who pitched magnificently in her final high school game. Ten of the first 11 outs Centereach made came on Morrow strikeouts. Morrow, who issued three walks, threw 120 pitches, 77 for strikes. She came within two strikeouts of equalling her career high.
Morrow has hurled three no-hitters this season. The chance for a fourth was quickly erased when Burnett took the game’s fourth pitch for a single to right field. But Morrow, who will play for Central Connecticut State University next season, was largely dominant after that.
“She’s unbelievable,” Centereach Coach Sal Santoro said. “She’s a great pitcher. She’s got to be among the top two or three in the county. I mean, the kid’s a stud. She throws gas. She’s as good as they come.”
And yet, the Cougars hung in there and kept faith.
“I never doubt my team,” Santoro said. “I believe in my kids. They get the job done and they play hard.”
Jen Nadeau gave Riverhead hope with her one-out bloop single in the bottom of the seventh. The next batter, Beth Zilnicki, bounced a grounder to De Cosimo, who tagged out the pinch runner, Ali Doscinski, and then made the throw to first baseman Emma Agostino for the game-ending double play.
De Cosimo said not thinking was vital for her pivotal at-bat. “You got to have a clear mind throughout everything,” she said. “You just got to do what you got to do.”
Riverhead had been on a roll itself, having won its previous 13 games. But the Blue Waves were shut out for only the second time this season. They managed six hits off winning pitcher Cassie Martinez, including two each by Emily Commins and Nadeau. Martinez, who went the distance, struck out six and did not give up a walk in her 79-pitch performance.
Although the early playoff exit is disappointing for Riverhead, this season hasn’t been, with the long-awaited league title.
“I’m going to have fond memories of this season,” Fox said. “That’s what I try to tell the girls, that’s what you got to remember. You come back 30 years from now, you’re going to have a banner up on the wall there, and you’re going to be a part of it.”