Softball: Wildcats open season with 11-inning shutout

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River third baseman Alex Hutchins makes the sliding stop on a grounder.

WILDCATS 1, EAGLES 0 (11 innings)

Combine two veteran pitchers with a frigid, windy afternoon and you have the perfect formula for a low-scoring game.

The Shoreham-Wading River softball team opened the 2012 season with a hard-earned 1-0 victory in 11 innings over Rocky Point on the road Monday afternoon. Junior Chelsea Hawks, a third-year varsity starter, threw a complete game shutout with 11 strikeouts while giving up only three hits with two walks.

“My adrenaline kind of took over,” Hawks said. “My arm’s probably going to be dead tomorrow.”

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River junior Chelsea Hawks struck out 11 against Rocky Point.

Hawks out-dueled Rocky Point sophomore Annie Kennedy, who was equally dominant throughout the game. A varsity player since seventh grade, Kennedy struck out 14 Shoreham batters in a losing effort.

If not for the tie-breaker rule which allows each team to start with a runner on second base beginning in the 10th inning, the teams might still be on the field trying to scratch a run across the board.

The Wildcats finally broke through in the 11th when Hailey Tilton singled to right field with one out to bring home Hawks for the go-ahead run. Hawks, who made the final out in the 10th, began the inning on second base. Freshman Caitlin Mirabell, a key player on last year’s playoff team, advanced Hawks from second to third on a sacrifice bunt to set up Tilton.

“It was really hard,” Hawks said. “It was really suspenseful. There were a lot of times I thought we were going to lose it.”

The Wildcats put together one of their best seasons in a decade last year when they advanced to the Class A semifinals, where they lost a close a game to Sayville. But most of the lineup graduated, leaving only a handful of players back to make another run this season.

The Wildcats also have a new coach in Christina Shiffman. She coached the JV at Shoreham last year. The Wildcats’ previous coach, Ed Price, opted not to return and instead will serve as a volunteer assistant under Shiffman.

“It’s a great way to start the season,” said Hawks, who’s a captain this year along with senior catcher Maddie Massa.

Hawks said while the Wildcats lost a lot of players from last year, they return with a lot of young talent.

“We have a lot of shoes to fill,” she said. “Everyone’s filling in.”

Hawks got into trouble early in the game as the Eagles got a runner into scoring position three straight innings. But when she needed a big out, she either got the strikeout or the defense made the plays behind her.

Hawks got better as the game progressed. She retired 13 straight batters from the fourth into the eighth before Amy Rausch reached with two out in the eighth. And that came after a strikeout, but the ball squirted free of Massa’s glove behind the plate and Rausch was able to scamper to first before the throw.

The wind, which blew heavily in from center field, made it difficult for everyone. Hawks said she had to rely on her curveball and screwball.

“I couldn’t really do anything offspeed because of the wind,” she said. “So I was working the corners.”

The Wildcats escaped a jam in the 10th inning thanks to a nifty double play. With Ashley Mancini starting the inning on second, Kelly Florio tried to bunt her to third. But on the second pitch from Hawks she lined the ball toward a charging Alex Hutchins at third who snagged the ball out of the air. She alertly threw back to second to double off Florio.

The Wildcats play their first home game of the season Thursday against East Hampton, giving Hawks two days to rest her arm.

[email protected]