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A short boat ride to a big diamond

Lauren Gurney, 17, a junior at Shelter Island High School, decided earlier this spring that she would travel to play the game she loves. She joined Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School varsity softball team and one of her most important accomplishments — at least for her dad Dave Gurney’s sake — was getting a driver’s license a few weeks back.

“At the beginning of the season, my dad would drive me over for practices and most of them were at three, so I had to race out of my school in order to get to practice on time,” Lauren said, who was thrust into the position of starting pitcher for the Lady Whalers.

“At the end of April, I finally got my license so I’ve been driving myself over since then. For away games, I drive myself to Pierson and then hop on the bus.”

The Lady Whalers took a bus to Center Moriches for their final regular season game of the season on May 8 and nearly upset one of the best teams in League VI. With Lauren tossing one of her best games of the season, Pierson lost, 2-1, on a walk-off infield single in the bottom of the 7th inning.

The Lady Whalers had no seniors in the lineup this season so much of the effort has been aimed at improving for next year, when Lauren and a talented junior class return for their senior seasons. Pierson finished with a 4-10 record and will not compete in the playoffs.

Lauren fit in right from the start, said Pierson Head Coach Woody Kneeland, despite being the only player from the Island commuting to play softball. Shelter Island does have a junior varsity team, but no other players have had the same level of commitment as Lauren, who played travel softball last year for the Long Island Express.

“My experience at Pierson has been amazing,” she said as the season came to a close this week. “The coaches are amazing as well as my teammates. At first, it was a little strange being the only one playing from a different school, but the girls on the team really took me in.”

Aside from a nagging groin injury that set her back a couple of games, Lauren was a key addition to a team with no seniors in the lineup but a solid group of juniors, so the future looks bright.

Since there are no other Class C teams like Pierson on Long Island, Coach Kneeland said the Lady Whalers would have advanced straight to a state regional final in the second week of June. After consulting with Pierson Athletic Director Eric Bramoff and a representative from Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body of high school athletics, the decision was made to bring the season to an end.

“We did show promise, we were worthy of consideration, but this team ultimately has a lot to prove next year and that’s what we’re going to move on to,” the coach said.

As for Lauren, who Coach Kneeland said was “lights out” against Center Moriches last week, her senior season and the hopes of a program looking for a return to prominence, are, at this point, intertwined.

“She’s the only one coming over from Shelter Island and had to walk into a whole group of Pierson kids and it worked out great,” the coach said. “She’s really been great.”

“I’m looking forward to pitching again next year,” Lauren said, adding that she would like to play softball in college. “I believe we can make it far in playoffs next year as long as everyone works hard and stays motivated.”

Lauren pitching ‘lights out’ for Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School.

Gavin Menu is co-publisher of the Sag Harbor Express.