Blue Waves force extra innings, fall to West Babylon

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead second baseman Sarah Tucci ran back to grab a pop fly during Saturday's game against West Babylon.

In his 11 years as the Riverhead High School softball coach, Bob Fox has never seen the degree of player turnover from one year to the next that he has with this current group of Blue Waves. Riverhead lost seven seniors — all starters — to graduation last year. The Blue Waves have five seniors and five juniors, but only three of those 10 played on the team in 2010.

Among the graduated are catcher Kara Vonatzski, an accomplished player at a vital position. But Fox isn’t fretting. Megan Weiss, who had been the catcher of the future for the past two years, is now the catcher of the present.

Weiss, a sophomore, spent the past two years catching for the junior varsity team, and it has prepared her well for this next stage in her playing career.

Fox had confidence that Weiss could handle the job at the varsity level.

“She’s a very good catcher,” he said. “She blocks everything. Her arm could be a little stronger, but she gets rid of the ball quickly. She does everything right.”

On Saturday, Weiss had her best offensive game to that point in the season. She hit the ball, going 2 for 4, and was also hit by the ball in a Suffolk County League IV game that kept fans on the edge of their seats at Riverhead High School. The Blue Waves bounced back from a 6-0 deficit to force extra innings, but lost to the West Babylon Eagles, 9-7, in nine innings.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead pitcher Amanda Graziano prepared to deliver a pitch against West Babylon.

Nikki Wilkinson, who reached base on a fielder’s choice in the top of the ninth inning, scored to break a 6-6 tie when a fly ball to right field was dropped. Kaitlin Kilcullen then chopped a two-run single through the middle, making it 9-6 and helping undefeated West Babylon on to its fifth win in as many games.

Riverhead, which took its third loss in four games, picked up a run in the bottom half of the inning when Alex McKillop scored from third base on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third, West Babylon pitcher Taylor Webb then struck out Courtney Rheaume for the game’s final out.

“I don’t think we were expecting that, but we’re ready for anything that comes,” West Babylon Coach Nicole Torres said. “My girls always battle.”

Riverhead had scored four runs in the seventh to tie the score at 6-6. Amanda Graziano and Sarah Tucci led off the inning with walks and, one out later, Weiss was hit by a pitch on her left thigh, loading the bases. With two out, Stephanie Falisi stroked a single to center field. The ball skipped past the center fielder, and all four Blue Waves scored on the play, evening up the score to force extra innings. “Up at bat I was all nervous,” Falisi said. “I didn’t want to get the last out of the game, so I just put the bat to the ball.”

Falisi kept faith in her team. “We just had heart,” the freshman first baseman said. “We didn’t get the win, but we left all we got on the field.”

Webb, a senior who raised her record to 5-0, had 14 strikeouts (11 Blue Waves struck out at least once). She gave up six hits and five walks.

Wilkinson and Kilcullen knocked in two runs each.

Last Thursday Riverhead gave up three runs in the bottom of the seventh and suffered a tough 6-5 loss to the Bellport Clippers. Like that game, Saturday’s contest was part of the learning process for the Blue Waves.

“You hang in there a little longer, and you never know what can happen,” Fox said. “Once you start learning how to win those games, you start believing in yourself and you win more games.”

The Blue Waves won on Monday when they defeated the Copiague Eagles, 14-4, in a league game in Riverhead.

Meanwhile, Weiss appears to be making a seamless adjustment to varsity softball. The fact that she has caught Graziano for years — the two played together since they were in Little League — undoubtedly helps.

“I like how the team relies on me,” Weiss said. Referring to playing at the varsity level, she added: “It’s a huge difference. It’s a whole nother game. The girls play better and work harder.”

Was it an unsettling feeling to enter the season with so many new players? Fox said it was anything but, and indicated that he enjoys the sort of coaching required for the current team. As for losses, they usually come with the territory for a team that is short on experience.

Said Fox, “Sometimes it’s good to have adversity before you have success because you enjoy it more” when you win.

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