Hopes high for Blue Waves softball season

White painted handprints scatter the top of the Riverhead’s varsity softball field dugout. One handprint for each member of the team. It’s all a part of first-year varsity coach Rich Vlacci’s vision. A team that accomplished more than anyone could have thought last year, playing in the Suffolk County championship semifinals, has returned the majority of its squad in hopes of taking the next step and winning it.

“Job’s not finished,” Vlacci said. “That’s what we have stressed all off-season. We’re proud of how far we got last season. One win away from league champions. One win away from making it to the Suffolk County championship. But we want more. And this team has what it takes.”

The Blue Waves have steadily improved over the last three seasons, going from 6-10, to 11-10 and then to 15-9 last year. This year, having graduated only two players, they’re expected to take a major jump forward again. 

Junior Mya Marelli warming up her pitching arm for a long season. (Bill Landon photo)

A major part of that turnaround was the emergence of Mya Marelli, who took over the starting pitching spot around the midpoint of the season after an injury to then-senior Bree Mckay. The lefty sophomore posted a 1.91 ERA with 186 strikeouts in only 126 innings of work. Marelli was named the League I Pitcher of the Year at the end of the season. She also mashed the softball to the tune of a .511 batting average.

“I had an opportunity to step up for my team last year and I didn’t want to let them down,” Marelli said. “I just did the best I could and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”

“I’ve had Mya since eighth grade,” said Riverhead assistant coach Kate Devinney. “She’s just continued to get better every year. She puts in a lot of hard work and she’s dedicated to her craft. I love the way she pitches on the mound. I love her attitude toward softball and her mindset. Sky’s the limit for her, honestly. She’s got the makings of a collegiate pitcher for sure.”

After her spectacular season, Marelli only went harder this offseason to get better and increase her confidence. Although her ability to throw the ball hard instantly sets her apart from her peers, life in the pitcher’s circle comes with loads of stress.

“I’m just trying to be more confident out there, really,” Marelli said. “I did a ton of camps and clinics this offseason to try to get better. I’m trying to have the right mindset with every batter that steps in the box. Where to throw it if they’re inside or if they’re outside. To try to pick up on certain things the batters like to do. I’m definitely more educated this year than last year, so that’ll be a big bonus for me.”

But one player doesn’t win you championships. Any coach would love the opportunity to have Marelli to build around. When asked to speak about a select few of stars for the upcoming season, Vlacci rattled off all 13 names on his roster and mentioned how they will help the team this season.

“Everybody has a role here,” Vlacci said. “I’ve been very transparent about what I need and we need contributions from everyone. We’re only as good as our 13th player.”

Riverhead will feature five seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen — getting representation from each class. Around Marelli, the starting infield figures to be Kaysee Mojo behind the plate, Deanna North at first, Shaylee Bealy at second, Adriana Martinez at shortstop and Isabella D’Andrea at the hot corner. The outfield will be a rotation of Jordyn Kwasna, Sophia Volia, Kelly Colombus, Emma Freeborn, Mikayla Nirrengarten and Madison Saladino. Tifany Perez, who Vlacci says is one of the fastest girls in the school, will get time at second and third bases.

North figures to be a major bat in the lineup in her final season as a Blue Wave, after sporting a .353 batting average her junior season. Before last season, she was named one of Newsday’s top 100 players on Long Island and is ready to show the world why. 

“I really want to win a league championship,” North said. “I want to go far. We’ve done so much as a team since we were little. I just want to win. If we win leagues, job’s not finished. If we win the county, let’s go win Long Island. Why not win the states? This is the best team we’ve assembled here in the time I’ve been here.”

Martinez had an on base percentage of .469 in her freshman season in the leadoff spot. She’s played a smooth shortstop to boot.

“We’re all just trying to improve and get better,” Martinez said. “My mentality is always that I have to set the tone in the first at bat of the game. If I get on we’re that much closer to scoring a run.”

After winning games with great pitching, defense and small ball, a lot of the offseason has been dedicated to hitting.

“We’ve done a lot of different stations with a lot of different fundamentals,” Vlacci said. “Working inside pitches, working outside pitches, front hand, back hand. We worked on weighted balls and partner drills with reactions to help with quickness. We did a lot of tracking where the girls just stood in the box and watched Mya pitch when we were inside. Learning to understand the spin, recognizing the velocity. There’s always room to improve.”

Vlacci also teaches a class in sports psychology at Riverhead. Born and raised in Riverhead, where he continues to raise his family, Vlacci is trying to restore a sense of pride into Riverhead sports.

“I love this place to death,” Vlacci said. “I bleed blue deeper than anybody. We had a lot of success when I went to school here. Riverhead is not looked at the same anymore. I want to turn this around. I want these girls to be able to come back to the school when they’re older and point up to the rafters and say, ‘You see that banner up there? I was on that team.’ This team can do it. But they have to do it together.”

Riverhead opens the season on Friday, March 22, at home against Patchogue-Medford.