It was a loss, of all things, that opened Chris Accardi’s eyes to the potential his Riverhead softball team had.
The 6-1 defeat to Sachem North came in the second game of the season, “and they were the cream of the division,” Accardi said. “We could have won that game. I told my assistant, Coach [Katelyn] DeVinney, I said, ‘This team is going to be good.’ ”
Accardi was speaking Thursday evening, after Riverhead’s valiant comeback attempt fell short in a 10-9 non-league loss to visiting Eastport-South Manor. Riverhead lost a 4-1 lead, saw Eastport go in front for good in the third inning and lead by as many as five runs in the sixth before the Blue Waves cut it close with a four-run burst in the sixth to pull within 10-9.
Riverhead may have thought it set the stage for a walk-off victory or at least extra innings in the seventh when Mya Marelli led off by lining a single and reaching second base on the play when the ball skipped past an outfielder. Adriana Martinez then walloped a pitch into deep centerfield, only to see Kylee Hall reach back for a tremendous catch, keeping Marelli on second. Shaylee Bealey moved Marelli to third with a sacrifice bunt, bringing Olivia Sulzer to the plate. Sulzer, who had earlier delivered two hits, including an RBI double, was fanned by reliever Kim Cotrel to end it.
Riverhead junior Bree McKay, who started the game in rightfield before relieving Marelli with one out in the sixth, likes playing in tight games like this, but …
“I’m not a loser, so I don’t like to lose, but at the end of the day, we all tried our best,” she said. “I think we could have stepped it up a little more. We just didn’t have it there today.”
Riverhead (6-2), which is 5-1 in Suffolk County League I, was hoping for some late-game magic of the kind it found the day before at Sachem East. The Blue Waves rallied in that game and won in eight innings, 6-5.
What’s interesting about Riverhead is it is a young team that starts three eighth-graders (Jordyn Kwasna, Adriana Martinez and Sulzer) and two freshmen (Bealey and Marelli). Riley Dunbar is the only senior.
But chronological age is one thing. Talent is another.
“They are really good softball players,” Accardi said. “You know, they are all travel players. They all know the game really well, so I don’t have to sit there from square one, show them how to do this and show them that. They’re very accomplished players.”
Sophomore leftfielder Deanna North, who had two hits, knocked in a run, scored three runs, drew a walk and stole two bases, said, “We all play 24/7.”
Accardi said the team goes through growing pains, but the growing pains haven’t been as bad as he expected. And the defense, he said, has been the biggest change since a year ago. Something else the coach really likes: “They fight to the end.”
Riverhead forged a 4-1 lead with a pair of runs in each of the first two innings. Dunbar and Kaysee Mojo both scored on successive fielding errors in the first. After Kendall Ward pulled a run back for Eastport (3-2, 2-2 League IV) in the second with an RBI fielder’s choice, Sulzer socked a double off the lunging Hall’s glove, and later scored, getting herself out of a pickle between third base and home.
But Eastport surged ahead with a four-run rally in the third, courtesy of RBI doubles by Michelle Chiaramonte (2 for 3, two RBIs, three runs, walk, stolen base) and Jayna Huertas (2 for 3, three RBIs), and RBI singles by Kara Kluse (3 for 4, two RBIs) and Lexi Maggi.
Eastport expanded that lead to 7-4 in the fifth. Keller came home on a double steal and Kluse brought in another run on a double.
A dropped third strike enabled North to score in the bottom half of the inning.
But Eastport applied what seemed to be the coup de grâce in the form of a three-run burst in the sixth for a 10-5 cushion. Chiaramonte singled in a run and Huertas poked a two-run single.
Riverhead replied with four runs in its half of the inning. Megan McKay clocked an RBI double, North chopped a high-bouncing RBI single over the third baseman and Mojo slugged a two-run single, making it a one-run game that stayed that way.
Riverhead is two league wins away from clinching its first playoff berth in four years, said Accardi.
“I think we’re doing amazing,” North said. “Our defense is sharper, our offense is sharper. We’re really meshing together as a team and we’re looking really good.”