Blue Waves top North Babylon, advance to quarter finals

The Blue Waves are rolling on.

Riverhead’s sophomore ace Mya Marelli did it again – this time in the biggest game of the season when her team needed her most. Marelli struck out 16 while allowing just three hits in a 3-0 shutout of North Babylon in the second round of the Section XI Suffolk County Class AA playoffs Friday afternoon.

After dismantling No. 8 Lindenhurst, 5-1 in the first round Wednesday, Riverhead hopped on the bus to North Babylon High School, where they played in whipping winds that sent infield dirt whirling all over the diamond. Amid the dust, the Blue Waves, whose season ended on this very field in the playoffs last year, did the unprecedented and knocked off the top seed in the tournament. 

“Let me tell you something, there’s not one person on this team that didn’t think it was possible to win today,” Riverhead head coach Chris Accardi said. “We had a great practice yesterday. We were sharp. We came here to win.”

“When we saw that they were 19-2 we knew it wouldn’t be easy and that we had to put together a full team effort to win,” Marelli said. “We had to be on point and super focused today. Even though we had a good amount of losses this year, we fought and clawed in every game. We’re much better than our record says.”

Every time North Babylon (19-3) threatened to score, Marelli dug deep and came up with big outs to strand runners on base – most of the time by way of a strikeout. The sophomore lefty stranded runners in scoring position in the first, second, third and, most importantly, in the bottom of the 7th inning when the Bulldogs had runners at second and third with one out. Marelli made the next batter whiff and then sealed the game on a pop up to shortstop Adriana Martinez. 

“Last game the plate umpire came up to me and said I think she’s one of the best pitchers in the county,” Accardi said. “She’s not one of the best. She is the best. And the scary part is, she just keeps getting better every game. Her confidence just continues to grow.”

“My curve was definitely working today,” Marelli said. “Once I struck out the first batter of the game with my curveball I knew I was going to stick with it the rest of the game.”

With a dominant pitcher in the circle, it doesn’t take many runs to win. Riverhead, as they’ve done most of the season, focused on small ball to get runs across the plate and it all started with Martinez in the lead off spot. Martinez reached base three times, scoring a run and stealing three bases in the process. Whether it was a bunt to move the runner over or a steal to get into scoring position, the Blue Waves took advantage whenever they could.

“As a leadoff hitter all I focus on is getting on base,” Martinez said. “My job is to kick-start the offense. If I get on, it makes it easier for us to score runs and it takes all of us to do so. And once I’m on I’m doing my best to score.”

Bree McKay, who has fought her way back from a finger injury, was twice put in a situation with a runner in scoring position, and capitalized in the crucial moment, notching two RBIs. Her double in the top of the 7th inning to plate a run gave the Blue Waves much-needed breathing room.

“After being hurt early in the season I was so excited to get back out there and contribute,” McKay said. “I took a deep breath and told myself ‘I got this’ and went out there and did the best I could.”

“We all came into today with a positive attitude,” McKay added. “We play for what is written on our jerseys and that’s Riverhead.”

At the end of the season, Accardi figured a second place finish in League III would get Riverhead (14-7) a home game in round one of the playoffs. They haven’t played a home game yet, but with two games in the books – the Blue waves have only surrendered one run.

“I put it out there in practice this week,” Accardi said. “We should feel disrespected a little bit by the seeding committee. We’ve been playing a little angry the last few days and proving we deserved a higher seed every game that goes by.”

With the victory, the Blue Waves now advance to the quarterfinal in the winner’s bracket. They’ll travel Monday to familiar League III foe No. 5 Sachem North who defeated No. 13 Patchogue-Medford in round two, 15-1. The Blue Waves beat Sachem North 2-1 on May 5. In the double-elimination format, Riverhead can afford to lose a game and still advance to the championship.

“We have such strong chemistry and that’s what keeps us loose and playing at a high level,” McKay said. “Through pasta parties, team bonding experiences, and the fact that we’ve played together for so long —since Little League – our bond is just unbreakable.”