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Mar 13, 2018 2:45 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Season Preview: Lady Whalers Softball Looks For Consistency This Spring

Mar 13, 2018 2:45 PM

Due to several issues, Pierson/Bridgehampton softball head coach John “Woody” Kneeland said last year—his first as head coach—was almost like a lost season. The Lady Whalers, after having won the previous five Class C county titles, could only muster five wins leading to a disappointing season.

On more than one occasion, due to injuries, suspensions or players missing games due to other commitments, Kneeland said he was playing varsity games with more than half the team being made up by junior varsity players. He’s hoping everything that happened last year is now in the rear view mirror and the team can get back on track.

“All sorts of stuff happened last year where it kind of snowballed,” he said. “I never knew who was going to be playing, who was coming, who was going.

“I think this season we’ll have consistency on who will be there. I have a lot of returning players,” Kneeland added.

There are six seniors on the team this season, the most the team has had in one season in quite some time, Kneeland said. Cassie Arbia, Eleanor Byrnes, Isabella DiRussa, Leigh Hatfield, Ava Kiss, Jade Maldonado, Annabelle Schroeder and Shannon Sloane all give the team a nice veteran presence. Byrnes is returning to the team after taking the past few years off, and Maldonado is joining softball after playing on the junior varsity baseball team last season. Maldonado had a love for baseball growing up in the Longwood School District, and after moving to Bridgehampton last year, an opprtunity to join the Pierson JV baseball team opened up and she took it. She decided this year to move to softball.

Kneeland hasn’t penciled in where his players will slot in defensively just yet, but that’s mainly because many of them can play multiple positions, and where they play will depend largely on the opponent. Schroeder has been the team’s starting pitcher in the past, but with sophomores Sam Cox and Kathryn Powell getting a lot of time on varsity last season, they will fill the pitching duties this season. Halle Kneeland, the coach’s daughter, and Grace Gawronski, another pair of sophomores, will be getting their first full seasons on varsity this spring. Coach Kneeland also said there are few more players who will split time between varsity and JV.

Pierson will be competing in a large conglomerate that is League VII this season, made up of all the Class A through C teams in Suffolk County. The Lady Whalers are one of four Class C teams this season, along with Mercy, Port Jefferson and Southold/Greenport. With all 24 teams being power ranked in League VII, Pierson was ranked last out of the Class C teams, but Coach Kneeland is more worried about getting the program back to where it’s been in the past than putting a focus on winning and losing, for now.

“We have to build chemistry for ourselves and get everything in-house the way we want it, then we’ll take it inning by inning, pitch by pitch,” he explained. “I don’t think it really matters who we’re playing, we have to start building our program, building some consistency. If we show up and start doing that—like physically show up and the kids are there on a full-time basis—for me it’s all about that.

“We’re going to face some tough teams—let’s go in with an underdog attitude and just compete, give ourselves a chance to win—and it all starts in-house,” he said. “If the girls are relaxed and having fun things will be a lot easier for them.

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