Hampton Bays head coach Rich Doulos went into this season feeling it was imperative for the future success of his program to reach the playoffs again, despite losing half his players to graduation.
At times, especially the first half of the season, that goal seemed lofty.
The Lady Baymen (7-7 in League VI, 7-9 overall) clinched their spot convincingly, with a 15-0 shutout at Southold/Greenport in a five-inning game on May 9.
That win—along with an equally important 8-4 win over Southampton on Wednesday evening at Red Creek Park—means the Lady Baymen will be part of the Class B playoffs, set to start on May 22. Last season, Hampton Bays was a Class A school but still qualified for the postseason, despite facing stiffer competition. The Lady Baymen made the most of that playoff run, beating Westhampton Beach and top seed East Islip before close losses to Miller Place and Kings Park. After moving back down to Class B, failing to make the playoffs in a less competitive bracket would have been a big step back.
Head coach Rich Doulos said he was proud of his team for overcoming adversity and pulling it together by the end of the season.
“Overall, to come back and win three out of our last five games to make the playoffs was great,” he said. “We only had 10 girls from the beginning [of the season] and we had one girl go away for about three weeks, our senior captain Amelia Kozuchowski got injured, our second game, and was basically out a month, and Becca Heaney injured her wrist and missed a few games. When we got healthy, we came together as a team, played much better defense, and just made it in.
“Our goal was to get better every day, make the playoffs and then take it from there,” he continued. “We are a relatively young team and our expectation is to simply believe in ourselves, and believe that as a team and program, that if we play together we can compete against anyone.”
Doulos said earlier this week that he expected his team to earn the fourth seed, which would have it playing at undefeated Babylon (17-0) on May 22. The Lady Baymen lost twice to Babylon during the regular season, both by 13-1 scores.
The Lady Baymen were clearly the better team in the battle with Southold. Heaney was 3 for 3 with three runs, two RBIs and a walk; Tara Brochu was 2 for 3 with three runs, two RBIs and a walk, and Elle Dunkirk was also 2 for 3, with a run, two RBIs and a walk. Emily Peyton allowed three hits over five innings with five strikeouts and five walks.
The game against Southampton had more intrigue.
It took about 45 minutes to get the first inning completed with both Hampton Bays and Southampton scratching across a pair of runs on Wednesday evening. Both teams settled in nicely though as the game wore on. A squeeze bunt by Heaney drove in Brochu from third base to give Hampton Bays a 3-2 lead in the top of the third, then Dunkirk sent a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Kozuchowski to make it a 4-2 game.
The Lady Baymen broke things open a bit in the top of the fourth. After Pam Grajales bunted her way on, she stole second and was driven home on a double by Peyton. After Southampton decided to intentionally walk Lily Candelaria, Brochu—who went 4 for 4 with two runs and two RBIs—laced a line drive deep to right field for a two-run triple, giving Hampton Bays a 7-2 lead. Heaney followed up with a run-scoring single up the middle to drive in Brochu to make it 8-2.
Southampton rebounded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth. Taylor Pike led off the inning with a walk and made it all the way home on a double from Leah Sellinger. A ground out later in the inning by Carly Cenzoprano drove home Sellinger to make it 8-4.
Peyton, starting in the circle for Hampton Bays, had some control issues the first few innings of the game, which led to six walks and she also hit two batters that accounted for Southampton’s first two runs of the game. But she was a different pitcher the second half of the game. She allowed another double to Sellinger in the bottom of the sixth but was able to pitch around that. She then sat down the order in the bottom of the seventh, including her fifth strike out to end the game.
Doulos said he liked the way his team played in the win and it was nice just to have the team at full strength. Kozuchowski missed about a full month of the season due to multiple reasons, one of which was a sprained MCL in one of her knees. A four-year varsity player and senior, Doulos said it was nice to have her back.
“It’s great just to have her and her leadership and her attitude that she brings to the program,” he said.
Kozuchowski was one of two seniors Hampton Bays honored prior to the game along with first-year varsity player Dulse Moranchel. She said dealing with her injury, and missing the first week of the season due to attending a funeral in her parent’s native Poland, made this season exceptionally difficult, but that her teammates have been with her every step of the way.
“I’ve come back stronger than ever and these girls have been through it all and they’ve cheered me on through everything,” she said, fighting back tears. “We really needed this win and we all put the work and effort in that we really needed. And I’m very proud of my girls from the beginning of the season to now. They really grew up and I really enjoyed playing with this team.”
Southampton’s season came to an end after Wednesday night, finishing with a 4-10 League VII record (4-12 overall). It was also a highly emotional game for the Lady Mariners who said goodbye to five seniors prior to the game with a ceremony with their parents and teammates, led by head coach Tania Ciancio. Pike and Cenzoprano, who have been on the team together the past five years, lead the departing group that also includes Sellinger, Haley Dressler and Brigid Grealish.
“They all brought something different to the table,” Ciancio said of the seniors. “We had a couple who brought leadership, a couple that brought mental toughness, and I’m hoping that those girls, whatever they instilled in the younger girls, is going to shine through. Not so much the mechanics, I can work on that, but the toughness that particularly Pike has, the toughness that Carly Cenzoprano has. I’m hoping that has kind of imprinted on some of the younger girls, because that’s something you really can’t teach.”
Despite winning just four games, Ciancio thought her team actually exceeded expectations due to how much the team lost to graduation after last season, in particular Samantha Wesnofske, the team’s top starting pitcher and one of its top bats. She credited Sellinger with stepping into the starting pitching role nicely.
“She stepped in and she kept us in games. Unfortunately it wasn’t always enough,” she said. “We lost a couple of games that, in my opinion, I think we should have won and I think that put us in a hole pretty early.
“But I think, overall, we had really good accomplishments, and I feel like we’re really grooming the younger girls to be better,” Ciancio added.
After the game, the players, many of them with tears in their eyes, took the time to reflect on their careers. They recognized they didn’t win too many games this season, but that was secondary to their overall experience together.
“This season was definitely, by far, the most memorable, for sure,” Dressler said. “We really became a team this year.
“You guys will always be family,” she said to the other three seniors she was standing with.
Cenzoprano said the game of softball itself changed her life in many ways for the good. And her teammates agreed.
“I’ve known all these girls since t-ball, little league, the smallest we could have been we were playing softball together, so at the end of [tonight’s] game, it really came full circle,” Grealish said. “We have such a bond that we’ve created, especially at the beginning of the season. It was a new dynamic, I think for everyone, especially the girls new to varsity, but by the end of the season, I love every single one of these girls with all my heart.
“Me and Carly have been playing together since we could walk, and we started the varsity journey together with Ciancio in eighth grade, and now every year we end it here [at Red Creek Park], so I think that was a really great experience,” Pike added. “We didn’t win a lot, but I think, together as a team, we came really far with helping the younger girls, encouraging them, teaching them how to be really passionate about something and show them that don’t give up next year.”