The Pierson/Bridgehampton/Shelter Island softball team and head coach Woody Kneeland are excited to get back out on the field this season, thanks to an infusion of young, talented players and a return to what Kneeland feels is a more friendly league alignment than last season.
Last year, the softball teams in the county were split into power-ranked divisions, which pitted small schools like Pierson against larger, highly competitive programs, and it led to what was just a two-win campaign for the Lady Whalers.
This season, there are once again six leagues, and all the Class B and C teams in the county are in League VI, meaning Pierson won’t be playing any larger Class A schools, like it did last season. The Lady Whalers are the only Class C team in the county, and will compete during the regular season against the seven ‘B’ squads in Suffolk.
The Lady Whalers are young this year, after losing seven seniors to graduation, including four starters, most notably All-League shortstop Isabella DiRussa, who also had the highest batting average on the team. But Kneeland is excited about several young and talented players who are either returning to varsity or ready to make their varsity debut.
A trio of juniors will all work to see time in the pitching circle this season. Sam Cox and Kathryn Powell, as well as Shelter Island student Lauren Gurney, should give the Lady Whalers stability at that all-important position.
Pierson teacher Sharon Truland, who was the head softball coach for the team from 1999 to 2006, has returned to the program as an assistant, and will work with the pitchers in particular.
“The addition of Sharon Truland as an assistant coach and pitching coach has been very helpful with this group of pitchers and three others currently on JV,” Kneeland said. “It’s great to have her building an army of pitchers at Pierson.”
As for the rest of the infield, junior Halle Kneeland will be the starting shortstop, while freshman Sofie Mancino will play catcher, and junior Cox will play third when she’s not pitching. Powell and Gurney will see time at first base when they’re not pitching. Kneeland said several players are still competing for the second base spot.
Kneeland expects junior Grace Gawronski, sophomores Brooke Esposito, and junior Hannah Kirwin to be his primary outfielders.
Kneeland said his team has “a lot of speed on the bases,” and says teams can expect his squad to play a lot of small ball, with emphasis on bunts and slap hitting. What he has seen so far from his players, as well as those on JV, has him excited for this season and the future as well, despite the relative youth and inexperience of the squad.
“We are a team of mostly juniors. Only four of them have varsity playing experience,” he said. “So we are still very young and inexperienced, but there is a lot of potential out there. There are also several young JV players that will be playing up this year. The future is bright.
“Last year, we played a power ranking league which was very unfair to the small schools,” he added. “We are back to our normal schedule of years past and hope to be very competitive in that league. We need to mature quickly but we have lots to look forward to.”
The Lady Whalers will start the season at Babylon on March 27 at 4:30 p.m. and will play their first home game two days later at Mashashimuet Park against Hampton Bays.