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Softball: All-Riverhead affair has festive feel to it

A lot was on the plate for this celebration of Riverhead softball.

When Riverhead’s two high school softball teams faced each other Saturday night, not only was it a double senior night, but it was also an intriguing matchup of opposing coaches. Bishop McGann-Mercy’s Rose Horton and Riverhead’s Jackie Zilnicki have been friends since they were Little League teammates. Both went on to play for the respective teams they’re currently coaching. Last year Horton was Zilnicki’s assistant coach at Mercy.

On Saturday they were in opposing dugouts at Stotzky Park’s Bob Burns Field for a non-league game that had a festive feel to it. Blue and white balloons were tied to the fence by the Riverhead dugout while green, gold and white balloons decorated the Mercy side.

“It’s interesting,” Horton said. “I like to see the green and gold and the blue and white meshed together.”

Prior to the game, Riverhead’s five seniors — Ariana Breest, Kristen Brunner, Kelly Falisi, Taylor Marelli and Casey Plitt — were recognized in a ceremony along with Mercy’s sole senior, Margaret Terry, as teammates read tributes to them.

Then it was time for Riverhead’s bats to go to work. The Blue Waves produced eight of their 11 hits in the first two innings to forge a 6-1 lead en route to a 7-4 victory. Among Riverhead’s five hits in the second inning was Kim Ligon’s second home run in three days (she had also homered in a 4-3 loss to Half Hollow Hills East on Thursday).

“It was actually nice, you know,” Zilnicki said afterward. “It felt like a big family here and I enjoyed it, knowing girls from each team. It was good to see that, and it was good for softball.”

Riverhead’s hitting was on. The Blue Waves (6-12, 5-12 Suffolk County League III) had Brooke McKay go 3-for-4 and score two runs while Dilworth went 3-for-3, with an RBI, a walk and a stolen base. Six Blue Waves had at least one RBI.

“We changed our approach a little bit,” Zilnicki said. “We wanted line drives up the middle, looking for strikes, and they did that today.”

Speaking of Riverhead’s hitting, Horton said, “I was impressed, to say the least.”

Riverhead came out hitting from the start. After Sarah Penny scored on a double steal in the top of the first for a 1-0 Mercy lead, Riverhead responded with successive three-run innings. In the first, Alexis Polak knocked an RBI single before Plitt and Dilworth drew bases-loaded walks for a 3-1 lead.

The biggest hit of the game, however, was Ligon’s second hit of the night. McKay led off the second by scorching a single past the second baseman, Terry. Following a sacrifice bunt by Polak, Ligon looped a high shot over the leftfield fence.

Riverhead stretched its lead to 7-1 in the fourth when Plitt scored on a groundout by Breest.

Mercy (9-7, 9-5 League X) pulled two runs back in the fifth from RBI singles by Olivia Valle and Izzy Sorgi, both with two outs.

In the seventh, Mercy put up its final run. Penny rammed a triple off a sign on the rightfield fence and slid in safely under the throw. She then scored on a Valle sacrifice fly.

Sorgi then took a pitch for a single to right-centerfield. Riverhead’s catcher, Polak, threw out pinch runner Hannah Echan trying to steal second for the game-ending out.

Plitt, the winning pitcher, gave up nine hits, walked two and struck out six.

“It’s really hard to focus with everything going on, but the girls did a great job today,” Zilnicki said. “They knew what they had to do and they did it.”

Unlike Mercy, Riverhead doesn’t have the playoffs to look forward to.

“Our record doesn’t show it, but I think we’ve been playing great,” Ligon said. “There’s a lot of talent [in League III], but we’re talented, too, and we’re building to get there.”

“The record doesn’t show what we are, what we’re capable of,” Zilnicki said. “We’ve grown a lot and now we know what our potential is for next season, to start strong, right out of the gate. It took us a while to get going this season, finding the right players, meshing together, but we’re going to get there.”

Wilkie injures ankle. Mercy’s Kate Wilkie watched the game while on crutches and with her right foot in a boot. The junior third baseman went to tag a player during Wednesday’s practice and rolled her ankle, said Rose Horton. A doctor said Wilkie would need a week to recover, according to Horton.

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Photo caption: Bishop McGann-Mercy coach Rose Horton, left, and Riverhead coach Jackie Zilnicki following Saturday night’s game at Stotzky Park. (Credit: Bob Liepa)

Correction: An earlier version of the story stated that Ashley Columbus made the throw for the game’s final out. Alexis Polak did.