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Softball: Riverhead receives free pass to state tournament

It’s a free pass, to be sure, but at the same time a precious gift.

Because there are no other teams in Suffolk County in the 10-11-year-old division, Riverhead has not had to play a single game to gain entry for the first time into the New York State Little League Softball Tournament, said coach Fred Ligon.

“It was like bittersweet,” Ligon said of hearing the news that Riverhead could go straight into the state tournament that will be played July 26-31 in Glens Falls. “It’s good that we’re going to go up, but I would like to have a game or two under our belts.”

The Riverheaders, whose regular season ended in mid-June, aren’t taking this opportunity for granted. Ever since a series of three tryouts concluded, Ligon and his assistant coach, Chris McKay, has put the team through three or four practices a week, going through drills and taking cuts in the batting cage in the summer heat.

Asked to describe the mood of the players as they prepare, Ligon said, “Anxious and hungry — and also nervous.”

That would be understandable. This is all new to the 12 players (from two majors and three Double-A teams) and both coaches.

Riverhead will be guaranteed at least three games in the tournament.

“There are definitely going to be butterflies,” McKay said. “If they make a mistake, just forget about it. They’re a great bunch of girls, different girls. If they do what they do in practice, we should be fine.”

Ligon said it will be a successful tournament for his players if they play “as hard as we can, and [don’t beat] ourselves. That’s all I’m looking for, for these girls to go up there and also have a good time and have fun doing this, but also to play up to their potential.”

Both coaches have a daughter on the team, Michaela Ligon and Megan McKay. The other players are: Faith Falisi, Tara Galka, Ava Gradischer, Kristy Lessard, Abigail Maher, Brianne McKay, Mikayla Nirrengarten, Deanna North, Courtney Reynolds and Madison Williams.

Getting to Glens Falls requires some help. Coaches lauded the last-minute fundraising efforts of parents to help offset the cost. One of those parents, Kristin North, said it will cost about $12,000 to send the team to Glens Falls. “It’s definitely going to be expensive,” she said. North said the fundraising has gone well, with a 50-50 raffle, business sponsorships, a car wash and donations.

“The parents are unbelievable right now, all of them,” McKay said. “They’re all doing their job.”

Looking ahead to what could be an experience of a lifetime for his players, Ligon said, “My girls are ready.”

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Photo caption: The Riverhead Little League team did not have to play a single game in order to receive an invitation to play in the state tournament in Glens Falls later this month. (Photo credit: courtesy photo)