Blue Waves suffer first playoff loss; can still advance to County finals with win on Saturday

Riverhead’s undefeated run through the Suffolk County Class AA playoffs came to an end Wednesday as they fell to League IV champion and No. 6 seed Smithtown East, 4-0. Playing at Smithtown East High School, their fourth straight away game in the playoffs, the Blue Waves just couldn’t string together enough hits to push runs across the plate. The loss knocks No. 9 Riverhead into the loser’s bracket of the double elimination tournament. But because they went so deep into the postseason without a loss, the Blue Waves are still just one win away from making it into the championship game. 

“Things just didn’t fall our way today,” Riverhead head coach Chris Accardi said. “But you have to adapt to what each team is trying to do. We definitely had our opportunities. We missed a tag-up on third on a fly ball. Made some errors. We just needed to get the hits and make all the plays today.”

Riverhead (15-8) has had a tough time scoring runs all tournament long. That has left Mya Marelli, the sophomore pitching sensation, with no room for error. And as the Blue Waves face tougher competition, it’s not realistic to expect Marelli to be perfect. It didn’t help that Smithtown East head coach, Rob Aplin, is also the head coach of the LI Heat, Marelli’s travel team. Most opponents have been surprised by Marelli’s prowess in the circle, but not Aplin. He knew exactly how to approach each at bat. 

“He knows what she pitches,” Accardi said. “So I would say it helped them out a bit. But Marelli battled from start to finish. Hats off to Smithtown East.”

The Bulls (17-5) clearly anticipated it was going to be a close game. From the opening innings to the end, they bunted up and down their lineup. If a batter got on base, she would be bunted over, maximizing every opportunity to put runners in scoring position. It was a very similar approach to how Riverhead has been playing this season. With so much youth throughout their lineup, the focus has been on small-ball to manufacture runs.

The Blue Waves did get seven hits off Smithtown East’s Gabby Amicizia, who had shut out the team’s previous two playoff opponents. Marelli notched two hits, and Adrianna Martinez, Bree McKay, Kaysee Mojo, Olivia Sulzer and Shay Bealey added one each. Amicizia struck out just three batters compared to Marelli’s nine, but it was a matter of where the balls that were put in play wound up. Many of Riverhead’s batted balls were hit directly at a fielder.

“At ‘em balls,” Accardi called them. “You can’t get mad. They hit a lot of balls hard. Just need to find some open space for the next game.”

If it wasn’t for a few mental lapses on defense, the game would have been closer. A few hits with runners in scoring position could have turned the tide. But the upside of this double-elimination format is that the Blue Waves can still be crowned Suffolk County champs.

No. 1 North Babylon and No. 3 West Islip have been fighting through the loser’s bracket after early losses. Riverhead beat North Babylon in the second round. Those teams will play Friday, and the winner will face Riverhead Saturday for a spot in the championship against Smithtown East. Coming out of the losers bracket, the winner of the semifinal game will have to to beat the Bulls twice.

“At this point of the season we are where we are,” Accardi said. “We’ve gone over all the bunt coverages, and steal coverages, and all that other stuff. There’s not much more we can do. Look, we got punched in the mouth today, we have to see how we respond.”