PORT JEFFERSON STATION — It’s almost unfair. The Port Jefferson Royals are a good enough softball team, even without a bottom third of the batting order that can hit like this.
Courtney Fee, the team’s No. 7 hitter, banged out two hits and kick-started a couple of run-scoring innings for Port Jefferson on Tuesday. The team’s No. 9 batter, Anastasia Lennon, added another hit and drove in a run.
The sight of this was a beauty to behold for Port Jefferson Coach Debbie Brown. “The bottom of the order,” she said, “once they start hitting, we know it’s going to be a great game.”
It was, for the Royals — not the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs.
Top-seeded Port Jefferson swatted five of its eight hits during a five-run rally in the second inning, paving the way for a 6-1 victory over No. 3 McGann-Mercy in the opening game of the Suffolk County Class C finals. Chelsea Tamuk stroked a two-run single during the rally, which also including run-scoring singles by Mollie Gibson and Renee Marchewka as well as a sacrifice fly by Joy Morrison for the fifth run.
Tamuk, Marchewka and Fee had two hits apiece for defending Long Island champion Port Jefferson (16-5), which can sweep the series with another win over McGann-Mercy today at Stotzky Memorial Park in Riverhead. If it’s needed, a third game will be played Saturday in Port Jefferson Station to decide the best-of-three series. The League VIII champion Royals are seeking their fourth straight county title, and a good deal more.
“We want to be in the [New York State] final four,” said Tamuk, the senior catcher in her fifth varsity season.
Port Jefferson was a state finalist in 2005. In each of the past two years the Royals bowed out in regional finals to Rhinebeck, leaving them one win shy of a coveted final-four place.
This year’s Port Jefferson team is virtually the same as last year’s, with a couple of notable exceptions. New to the squad are Fee, a right fielder, and Morrison, a transfer second baseman from Miller Place. Not surprisingly, expectations are high.
“Going into the season, everyone says, ‘We want to go to the final four; we want to go to the final four,’â” Brown said. “I say, ‘You don’t understand.’ I always tell the girls, ‘You got to make the playoffs first.’ “
Yet even Brown, who said she’s not the sort to make bold predictions, told a reporter before the season that she thought her team would go to the final four.
With a lineup like Port Jefferson’s, it’s easy to understand the optimism. Going into Tuesday’s game, the team’s No. 5 batter, Morrison, had a .401 batting average. Two teammates, Michiko McGivney and Gibson, were both well over that. McGivney, who started the season as the team’s No. 1 pitcher before being moved to first base after suffering a shoulder injury, was hitting a ridiculous .758 with 22 runs batted in. Gibson carried a .464 average with 24 RBI.
Tamuk said the team’s recent successes have been a benefit. “I think it has [helped] because almost everyone on our team knows what it feels like to win,” she said.
The Royals enjoyed that feeling again on Tuesday. It was the third win by Port Jefferson over McGann-Mercy in as many games this year, including a pair of four-run wins during the regular season.
Gibson (8-1) got the win, retiring the first seven batters she faced and scattering eight hits. She had no walks, no strikeouts and hit a batter. Gibson was economical, too, throwing 63 pitches, 47 for strikes.
The only run the junior right-hander conceded came in the fifth inning. Brieanne Bieber reached base on a bunt single, and then stole second and third before scoring on a groundout by Amanda Burriesci.
“We can definitely compete with them,” Burriesci said. “Toward the end we picked up our bats and started doing some things and got runners on base.”
McGann-Mercy (11-10), competing in the playoffs for the first time since 1991, received two hits from its No. 9 batter, Marissa James.
McGann-Mercy Coach Jacki Paton said she sensed some tightness in her players.
“It’s the first time they were ever in a championship game, so hopefully they got all their nerves out today,” she said. “We went uphill toward the end of the game. We were hitting the ball better. Hopefully we can carry that into Thursday.”
As with many coaches, Brown does her share of worrying. Taking the first game of the series was a relief for her, but the pressure to produce remains.
“I like being the underdog,” she said. “When we’re on top, it scares me. We got a lot to accomplish this year.”