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Blue Waves’ record-setting softball season ends with semifinal loss

Riverhead’s season ended in the Suffolk County Class AAA semifinal at Martha Avenue Park in Bellport against North Babylon by the score of 6-5 Thursday afternoon — but that doesn’t take away what this team accomplished this year. The Blue Waves went undefeated in regular season play, securing a program-best 18-0 record, securing a league title and earning a banner in the high school gymnasium. The ultimate goal was to win Riverhead’s first Suffolk County title — and they came tantalizingly close.

The Blue Waves were tasked with defeating No. 2 North Babylon without Big Schools Pitcher of the Year Mya Marelli, who injured her arm in Riverhead’s first loss of the season against Sachem East Monday. Although she could play in the field and hit, pitching was off the table. Such a loss could have sent any team into panic mode, but not the Blue Waves. 

Riverhead has always preached how every single member of the team is an essential contributor, and last Thursday was the ultimate test of that philosophy. Mikayla Nirrengarten took the responsibility of bringing Riverhead into the Suffolk County championship game and put the team on her shoulders. The senior gave it her all and certainly pitched well enough to earn her team a victory. 

“I told them before the game, that all season long, as good as Mya was, everyone contributed to this season’s success,” head coach Rich Vlacci said. “And today we got to show everyone that. Mikayla is a terrific pitcher, she’s different from Mya in that she’s more of a finesse pitcher that gives up ground balls and we have to make the plays behind her. I’m so proud of Mikayla. She did everything we needed her to do.”

Nirrengarten kept North Babylon off the board for the first four innings, by inducing weak fly balls and routine infield grounders. The score was tied 0-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth.

Riverhead had struggled to hit against Sachem East in the previous game and their troubles seemed to bleed into their tilt against North Babylon. But something clicked in the bottom of the fourth inning. After Marelli got on with a lead-off walk, senior captain Kaysee Mojo, who has been the heart and soul of the team all year long, battled through an eight-pitch at bat, fouling off pitch after pitch, until finally connecting on a double to the right field gap.

“After Kaysee’s at bat I saw the belief in the girls,” Vlacci said. “I think when you’re struggling, you need that big hit to kind of open things up. And I thought in the bottom of the fourth inning, we did that.”

Adriana Martinez, down 0-2 in the count, delivered when the team needed it, sending a line drive up the middle, scoring two runs and giving Riverhead its first lead of the game.

“Scoring there was huge for our confidence,” Vlacci said. “That next inning, though, things happened and unfortunately we didn’t make the plays when we needed to. Nine times out of 10, our girls make those plays. We’re phenomenal on the defensive side. We just had one rough inning.”

Three errors by the Blue Waves led to five runs in the top of the fifth, including a controversial play at the plate when the umpire ruled the runner safe even though the throw clearly beat her. 

To Riverhead’s credit, they kept fighting. Even with two outs in the bottom of the 7th inning, then trailing by four runs, the never-say-die attitude of the Blue Waves shined through. Marelli hit a single and then Mojo followed up with a single of her own to put two runners on with two outs. Bella D’Andrea got up and after fouling off a few pitches, launched the ball over the left field fence to cut the lead to just one. 

But that was as close as the Blue Waves got. A few plays could have changed the outcome, but that’s softball. Things don’t always fall your way. But for 20 games, they did, and that’s something for the Blue Waves to be proud of.

(Leslie Kwasna photo)

“I’m happy we got to hang a banner, but I wanted these seniors to go out with a county title so badly,” Vlacci said. “These seniors deserved it. They put in the work. They went through the bumps and bruises to get us to where we are now.”

What the Blue Waves accomplished this season transcends sports. And Vlacci couldn’t be more proud of the group he had this season.

“I truly think these girls made a tremendous impact on our town,” Vlacci said. “The community has been buzzing about our success and you can see it in the crowds that come to our games. We have 150 people show up to our home games. No other team gets that. And that’s what these girls did. They got the town behind them. This town has been starving for a team like we used to have in football years ago. And lacrosse was able to bring it back as well this year. Riverhead is making its way back. We’re happy to make our town proud, and we will continue to make them proud through the years. We’ll be back.”