After being given the ninth and lowest seed in the Suffolk County Class A postseason last year, the Hampton Bays softball team used it as fuel for its playoff run, and that it was. After defeating Westhampton Beach in an outbracket game, the Lady Baymen went on to upset top-seeded East Islip before falling to both Miller Place and Kings Park in what were both close games in the double-elimination formatted playoffs.
The team had a strong supporting cast centered around six-year starter Mackenzie Tyler and strong players in Emma Candelaria, Katie Picataggio, Shelby Hughes, Morgan Phillips and Hannah Hansen. But all of those players have since graduated, leaving Hampton Bays to regroup and rethink its strategy going forward.
“When you lose that many players, as special as they were, you have to find a new identity,” Hampton Bays head coach Rich Doulos said. “Right now, we’re worried about ourselves and not taking any team for granted, but getting into and finding our own groove.”
Even with the losses to graduation, the team still has a strong core returning, starting with senior and four-year varsity player Amelia Kozuchowski and three-year varsity player junior Lily Candelaria, who was League VII Rookie of the Year as a freshman and All-League last season. Kozuchowski will handle shortstop and could find some time in the pitching circle, while Candelaria will continue as the team’s starting catcher.
Juniors Pam Grajales (outfield/third base), Rebecca Heaney (outfield) and Emily Peyton (pitcher) are also returning, with Peyton entering her final year on the team since she’s graduating early. She’ll be taking over the team’s primary pitching duties left by Emma Candelaria. Sophomore Tara Brochu, who played quite a bit last season as a freshman, is entering her second season on varsity, and will play mostly first base—but can play all over the field and has recently started to work on her pitching, Doulos said.
Up from the junior varsity is sophomore Shana Pierce, a middle infielder, and freshmen Elle Dunkirk and Bryonna Hayes.
Hampton Bays had played in Class A the past few seasons, but has moved back down to Class B and will play in League VI, which includes both B and C teams. Babylon and Center Moriches will continue to field competitive teams while Mattituck, Port Jefferson, Southampton, Southold/Greenport and the league’s lone C team in Pierson/Bridgehampton round out the league.
“The hustle has been fantastic, and I think they’re buying into the program’s expectations and the history of success that we’ve had recently,” Doulos said. “You need to have expectations, then do the necessary work to follow up and reach them.”
The Lady Baymen will have plenty of time to work out all of the kinks. After hosting Riverhead in a non-league game on Wednesday, Hampton Bays doesn’t have another game until March 29, when it hosts Pierson at 4 p.m.