Featured Story

Opening day for Shelter Island softball and a fresh start: Beautifully refurbished field for athletes and fans

Monday, April 8 was an exciting day at Shelter Island School.

It was the afternoon that nearly everyone stopped in their tracks, donned a pair of super-dark glasses, gathered in the field behind the school and marveled at the nearly total solar eclipse. It was also opening day for the girls junior high and junior varsity softball teams. While the high school team traveled to the Ross School, the younger athletes played at home.

The Islanders’ softball field has been totally refurbished and was poised to welcome the visiting team from Springs. The new fencing around the infield and home plate keeps both teams and fans safe. The dugouts are entirely surrounded by a protective fence, while the roof will shield teams from any rain showers or hot sun.

The newly lined field, bordered by the home-run fence, looked pristine. The smell of fresh mulch laid down by the grounds crew tickled the nose. The sounds of coaches calling instructions and teammates encouraging one another completed the scene, signaling that spring sports have arrived.

There hasn’t been a 7th and 8th grade softball team for a number of years, but this group of girls really wanted to play, and there were enough athletes to field a team. The Shelter Island Athletic Department supported the concept, and the dream became a reality.

There were a few distractions. The excitement of the eclipse had barely faded, having peaked just one hour earlier. Practice had been disrupted by rain multiple times in the previous two weeks. This team had played together in Little League for a few years, although not in 2023. First day nerves were apparent.

Coach Kristin Sweeney brought the group together just before taking the field. She said, “Your job today is to do your best and have fun. You get to be the first team to play on this new field. Rely on your teammates to pick you up and help you. Be excited and confident!”

Shelter Island softball team pitcher Lexi Bartilucci starting the game off strong in the first inning against Springs on the Islanders home field April 8. (Credit: Francesca Frasco)

Traditional snacks of gum and sunflower seeds, brought by School Board Chairwoman Kathy Lynch, brought smiles.

As the game began, Aisley Davidson learned the intricacies of the scorebook while Lexi Bartilucci got the nod as the pitcher. Natalie Mamisashvili was behind the plate, encouraging her teammate as they settled into a routine.

Kylie Kuhr is left-handed, making her a natural at first base, where she fielded a number of throws. Michelle Martinez played at second where she made a nice catch to get a Springs player out on a pop-up in the first inning. Ella Fundora was tapped for shortstop and made a couple of great stops with nice throws to Makayla Cronin at third. This pair worked together, communicating and backing one another up well.

In junior high, four outfielders are allowed, giving the chance for athletes to gain experience and see more playing time as they develop their skills. Speedy Jayla Jones was in right field; Regina Kolmogorova-Weisenberg played center field, making a couple of nice stops when hits got by second base; and Elizabeth Weslek and Lily Brigham joined to protect left field.

Springs is a strong team, and it took a bit for the Islanders to get comfortable. During the first inning they were quiet and tentative, but by the second more chatter and smiles were evident. By the third, players were more confident in the batter’s box, with more and more taking swings at the balls coming over the plate.

Springs had built a hefty lead, but the Islanders got on the board in the third as Weslek’s single to right started the trend of four consecutive runners getting on base. Two runs were scored by the end of the inning.

Changes were made to the lineups for the fourth and fifth innings. Weslek moved to the pitcher’s circle while Eliza McCarthy became catcher. McCarthy was excellent at stopping and controlling the ball, quickly throwing it back to the pitcher.

As the sun began to descend in the sky during the later innings, fans wrapped themselves in blankets and the smell of a nearby wood fire seemed enticing. Parents made play dates and dinner plans. As the robins began singing their evening songs, JV baseball coaches Pete Miedema and Mike Dunning came over to support the team.

In our school the students wear many hats, and by the fifth inning Lexi Bartilucci and Lily Brigham had to leave for play rehearsal for the drama club’s production scheduled to be performed this weekend. 

The game wrapped up just after 7 p.m., and the chilled players made their way to the gym to change and warm up. Coach Sweeney encouraged the athletes to be proud of their first outing, and to take note of what they wanted to improve on.

Whether you’re on an undefeated national championship team like the newly crowned South Carolina women’s basketball team, or a 7th-grader who just played her first game of school ball, the top concept of athletics remains the same: To win it takes a team of dedicated and unselfish players willing to work hard at getting better.

Shelter Island’s young softball players have that heart, and I can’t wait to see how they develop this spring.

Come check out the beautiful new softball field and cheer them on when they play their next home game against East Hampton on April 18.