The word of the day for the Riverhead High School softball team?
The Blue Waves endured a frustrating Thursday afternoon at the school, watching Northport score the opening four runs of their penultimate Suffolk County League III game of the season while stranding 12 runners on base during a 7-6 home defeat. They left at least one runner aboard in every inning.
“It’s frustrating, especially when you want to get the runners in,” said senior third baseman Allyson O’Kula, one of three seniors honored on Senior Day. “You want to be big. Everybody gets up to at-bat, they want to be big. Sometimes we have to shorten up our swings and just get on base.”
Riverhead (7-12, 6-11) got plenty of them, 13 to be exact.
“It’s really frustrating,” said senior catcher Ashley Columbus, who flew out to right with two players on to end the game. “I feel like we get in our heads a lot sometimes, like we over-think situations.”
“It’s also frustrating because I feel we always leave it to the end of the game,” said senior pitcher Grace Dillingham, who drove in two runs. “We’re down and we try to make up all these runs. Our adrenaline is coming at that moment. I feel we need to learn to make every pitch count, every inning count. That’s the frustrating part, not leaving people on base. It happens, and everyone tries their hardest. But it’s just frustrating that people don’t come out like they should.”
Riverhead hurt itself on the basepaths as well, which squelched rallies. Two players were picked off at second base and a third was thrown out at third on a hit.
With the Blue Waves falling short of their goal to reach the Class A playoffs, they are scheduled to play their final game of the season — a make-up contest with Sachem North — on Friday.
The Tigers scored two runs in the first inning on McKenzie Graham’s two-run single; she added another RBI in the fourth. They added another two in the second on eighth-place hitter Gabby Long’s home run to right field and Nora Butler’s RBI single.
The Blue Waves battled back with three runs in the third before Northport added three more in the fourth for a 7-3 lead. Riverhead moved within a run with three runs in the sixth.
Northport (2-16, 2-16), which won its first game of the season Monday, had only nine players because of AP testing, giving coach Ashley Dell no wiggle room.
“The girls were really out here to play,” she said. “It’s our last game of the season. We worked hard the entire season. These girls really stepped up.”
After the game, the Blue Waves honored their three seniors with a special ceremony that included speeches from coach Jackie Zilnicki and teammates. O’Kula will attend Emmanuel College, Dillingham SUNY/Geneseo and Columbus Suffolk County Community College as she eyes a police career.
“Three awesome ladies who played big roles this year, who helped us in those games,” Zilnicki said. “They’ll really be missed, I’m sure. They love softball, they love the team. I think they accomplished a lot this season. Our record doesn’t show that.”
With one game remaining in her high school career, Columbus said it was “kind of scary. I really don’t feel like a senior. I kind of feel like a junior or sophomore still with softball and everything.”
“I guess it’s a bittersweet feeling,” Dillingham said. “Although it’s an ending, it’s open to a new beginning. So I’m definitely sad about it. But I love this team so much and I am just glad that I got to experience it.”
As one generation was winding down, another showed encouraging signs.
Sophomore leftfielder Katie Lysogorski, who pitched two scoreless innings in relief, was even more impressive at the plate. She went 4-for-4, was on base five times and scored twice.
“These past few games I’m kind of like in a slump,” she said. “But today, I picked myself out of it because I wanted to win for the seniors today. I got that extra motivation to focus.”
Zilnicki was encouraged for the future.
“Our goal was to make the playoffs this year, but we didn’t,” she said. “But we grew so much as a team from last year. Going into next year, I’m more optimistic where next year we can be even better. And we’ll accomplish that goal next year, without a doubt.”
Photo caption: Ashley Columbus bunts during Thursday’s game against Northport. (Credit: Garret Meade)
CORRECTION: A photo caption misidentified the Riverhead batter. It is Ashley Columbus.