There’s no shortage of motivation for the Riverhead softball team entering the 2013 season.
One win has been the difference between making the playoffs in each of the past two seasons for the Blue Waves, a trend they hope to break this year with a strong core of returning players.
Tallying enough wins to reach the postseason still won’t be easy, not after League IV only got tougher with the addition of East Islip, which replaced North Babylon.
“The league is stronger because the defending county champion team came to our league,” said Riverhead coach Bob Fox.
With Half Hollow Hills West, Hauppauge and Deer Park still in the league, the Blue Waves (10-10 last year) will face a competitive schedule throughout the season. Fox said he envisions the league being one of the toughest in Suffolk County.
“You’re going to have to work for your wins,” he said.
To prepare for the season, Riverhead has a trip planned to Disney World. The Blue Waves will play five scrimmages under the warm Florida sun next week.
Fox said this will be the sixth time he took a team to Florida.
The Blue Waves will head down after they open the season today at home against West Babylon.
Riverhead returns nine players from last year. It would have been 10, but sophomore Katie McKillop will miss the season as she recovers from an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
On the mound, the Blue Waves return senior Amanda Graziano, who will play softball next year at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. She officially signed to play field hockey there as well.
Graziano has gotten off to a slow start this year as she deals with tendinitis in her elbow, Fox said.
“She really hasn’t thrown in a week,” he said. “She went to the doctor and the doctor said there’s no damage. So we’re resting her.”
Junior Stephanie Falisi, the team’s No. 2 pitcher, has had her own issues as well. Fox said she just got back to practice after missing close to a week with an illness.
One certainty is senior Megan Weiss behind the plate. A two-time all-conference player, Weiss will be a vital part of the batting order in addition to her catching duties.
Fox said Weiss and Graziano have been playing together since Little League and on travel teams. “They go well together,” he said.
Shortstop Alex McKillop, the only lefty on the team, will be a key part of the lineup in the three hole. McKillop, Weiss, Falisi and Graziano will make up the core of the lineup. Fox said all four girls can hit between .350 and .375.
Danielle Napoli is a versatile player who can fill a number of different positions, from right field to second or third. Sara Tucci, who played second last year, will try to solidify the outfield in right. Sarah Freeborn will also hold down an outfield position.
Joscelin Morrow or Falisi could see time at second.
Shoreham-Wading River coach Christina Shiffman would rather not think much past this season. That’s what tends to happen when a starting pitcher reaches her senior season.
In Chelsea Hawks, the Wildcats (15-7) have had a clear No. 1 pitcher for the past three seasons. Last year Hawks threw close to every inning for the Wildcats as they advanced into the semifinals of the Class A playoffs before losing to Sayville for the second straight year.
Hawks, who signed with Molloy College, returns to lead the Wildcats at another run to the county title game.
It has been a bit of a slow start to the season for Hawks after dealing with some shoulder issues in the off-season, Shiffman said.
“We were a little concerned but in our scrimmages she’s shown she can definitely pick up where she left off last season,” Shiffman said. “She’s looking really good.”
Shiffman said Hawks’ determination is one of her biggest strengths. “She sets the tone for all of her teammates,” she said. “Not only as a senior captain, but when you have a dominating pitcher, you can set the tone.”
While Shiffman is in her second season as the varsity coach, she said she remembers Hawks from her days as the JV coach.
“Since she’s been in ninth grade she’s always been very confident,” Shiffman said.
Last year Hawks even became more of a threat at the plate.
Sophomore Caitlin Mirabell, who is in her third year on varsity, will see some time behind the plate this year after the Wildcats lost their starting catcher to graduation. Mirabell played in the outfield last season. The Wildcats will lean on Mirabell to anchor their batting order as well.
At shortstop the Wildcats return junior Brittany Mahan, who is in her third year on varsity. She will be another hitter in the middle of the order.
Third baseman Alex Hutchins returns as well. She was a key player last year and went 2 for 4 with a double and run scored in a playoff win over Miller Place.