Those were the words some members of the Riverhead High School softball team bandied around at practice while reminiscing about the play of their former shortstop, Danielle Napoli.
And they weren’t the only ones. Their coach, Jeff Doroski, knows full well how much the Blue Waves lost when Napoli graduated last year before moving on to play field hockey for SUNY/Geneseo.
“She’ll be hard to replace,” he said of Napoli, who was an all-state player and the Suffolk County League II most valuable player. “She’s probably one of the best players who’s come through here, so to replace somebody like that will be tough.”
And yet, that is what Riverhead has to do. Finding a new shortstop is its most pressing need. The Blue Waves are turning to a sophomore, Kim Ligon, as the leading candidate.
Ligon played third base and second base last year after taking her eighth-grade year off. She had played shortstop as a seventh grader for the junior varsity team.
“I think she can do it,” said Doroski, who takes a 21-19 record into his third year as Riverhead’s coach. “She has the mentality to do it and she wants to do it.”
Ligon knows more range and movement is required at shortstop. She seems open to the challenge.
“I think after Dani Napoli, it’s definitely going to be hard to fill those shoes,” she said. “She was amazing. But I think with the help of my coaching staff and my teammates, I should be fine.”
Ligon saw the writing on the wall last year as Napoli’s days with Riverhead neared an end.
“I definitely saw myself as a contender for it,” she said, “but I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it or not because there’s definitely other people who can play that position well, so it’s nice to have gotten that chance to show people.”
If any player on the team can appreciate a good shortstop, it is junior pitcher Casey Plitt.
Does Ligon have what it takes to play shortstop?
“Most definitely,” Plitt said. “She is an amazing athlete. She’s good at everything she tries and she puts her heart into everything, so I have all the confidence in the world [in] her. Last year we had Dani Napoli and she was amazing, and I think Kim will definitely be just as amazing.”
Riverhead is coming off a 12-8 season in which it lost, 6-5, in eight innings to Half Hollow Hills West in the first round of the playoffs.
“They were happy with returning to the playoffs, but they don’t like the way it ended,” Doroski said. He added: “It was a good year for us, a solid year. The girls were great and they played really hard. You know, they made it back to the playoffs, and that’s where Riverhead softball belongs.”
To return there, Riverhead must also find a replacement for the graduated Maria Dillingham in center field. So, some positions need to be ironed out, but the Blue Waves can count on players like Ally O’Kula at third base, Jessica Freeborn at second base or in the outfield, and Brittany Staltare at catcher.
And don’t forget Plitt, who has pitched every game for the team since she was a freshman.
“Her numbers have gotten better,” Doroski said. “Her strikeouts have gone up, her walks have gone down, her earned-run average has gone down.”
And what about Ligon? Does she have a preference for what position she will play?
“No,” she said. “As long as I’m playing, I’ll be fine.”
Photo caption: Kim Ligon, a sophomore who played third base and second base last year, is the leading candidate to succeed Danielle Napoli as Riverhead’s starting shortstop. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)