Softball: Blue Waves cap historic season

Riverhead has been tried and tested all season long but they endured every opponent’s best effort and emerged undefeated with a flawless, historic 18-0 record. 

The last game of the season — a 6-5 extra inning thriller that knocked Half Hollow Hills West out of playoff contention — was the closest Riverhead came to actually losing. Mya Marelli smashed the walk-off hit in the 10th inning that day.

“We finally had one of those games that we were thinking ‘we might lose this,’” head coach Rich Vlacci said. “It was good to see that we’re not invincible. But at the same time we realized we can perform under pressure and can come up clutch when we need it. It was a great experience rolling into the playoffs.”

“We didn’t go 17-0 for nothing,” Marelli said of that win. “We had to finish the job.”

Some say that not having a loss could be a blessing and a curse. Losing tends to give teaching moments that help a team grow.

“I teach sports psychology so I tell the kids all the time that I feel that it’s almost important to have a loss,” the coach said. “What it does is it kind of shows you what’s wrong. When you constantly win you don’t nitpick at the flaws because you’re having success. The best thing about the group we have is that even with all the success, we’ve nitpicked so many little things to say even though we are doing well, we can do better. The girls reciprocated that and that’s why we are where we are.”

Riverhead showed no signs of slowing down Tuesday as they took apart a familiar opponent in League I foe Ward Melville. Playing in front of perhaps the largest crowd of the season, where extra bleacher seats were installed behind the outfield fence, the Blue Waves dominated from the start and secured a 7-2 victory to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

All-County junior, Mya Marelli, struck out 191 batters in just 103 innings pitched through the team’s undefeated regular season, earning her the title of Big Schools Pitcher of the Year. Marelli also lit up the batter’s box, hitting .475 with eight doubles, three home runs and 20 RBIs. (Lesie Kwasna Photo)

Before the playoffs began, coaches in Suffolk County had a meeting and decided on players who would receive all-county honors, among a plethora of other awards. Riverhead came away with four all-county players in Marelli, Jordyn Kwasna, Sophia Viola and Kaysee Mojo. Marelli was also named the Big Schools Pitcher of the Year.

“It’s definitely a major accomplishment to be recognized for all the hard work we put in,” Kwasna said. “Individual stuff is cool but we’re after history. We’re more focused on our team goals and trying to win Riverhead its first softball county title.”

Riverhead’s big four played a major part in Tuesday’s victory. Marelli threw a complete game, allowing only one earned run and striking out 10. Viola connected on two hits and scored two runs. Kwasna mashed two opposite field line drive hits, scored two runs and recorded an RBI. Mojo, who got a bloody nose and missed an at-bat, had two hits and drove in two runs.

“We’ve played our whole season in small increments,” Mojo said. “This is just our next four-game stretch. We have all the small goals to make sure we can make it to our main goal. This win was massive to start off the playoffs.”

Vlacci’s “job’s not finished” mantra, which is plastered all over the Blue Waves’ gear, refers to taking that next step that eluded them last year. Being one game away from making it to the Suffolk County championship still weighs on the minds of the Blue Waves. 

“The vibes this year are so much different,” Marelli said. “We love being here and we love playing on this team. It’s almost like we wanted it to end last year. We weren’t having fun. We’re all in it this year. We’re all committed to the same goal. There’s no drama. We’re all about business.”

“We play for what’s on the front of our jersey,” Mojo added. “Not what’s on the back. We truly are here for one another and want the best for everyone.”

Riverhead needs three more wins to be crowned Suffolk County champions. Up next is League II’s Commack, which defeated No. 5 Connetquot, 12-4 on Tuesday. The quarter-final was moved to Saturday at 11 a.m. Riverhead High School. Being the No. 1 seed, Riverhead will play home games the rest of the way. Riverhead didn’t face Commack during the regular season.

“I think that’s good, not having played Commack,” Vlacci said. “Sometimes you go into a game and you overthink. We haven’t seen them but they haven’t seen us, either. I think our reputation is going to speak loudly for itself. For us though, no matter who we play, the same mindset has to occur. We have to be aggressive and we have to be focused. Nothing changes with our opponent, we just have to play our style of game.”