As most expected, the top two seeds in Class AA, A and B all advanced to their respective section finals Saturday at North Rockland H.S. I could see all six teams hoisting a plaque, although I do give Valhalla a larger edge over Rye Neck in Class B. Here’s my outlook and predictions for Saturday exhausting day of softball, in chronological order:
Class B final: No. 1 Valhalla vs. No. 2 Rye Neck, 9 a.m.
Valhalla obliterated Rye Neck 18-1 in their only meeting earlier this season — and it was at Rye Neck, and it was against Diana King. I said in my rankings post that if they met again in the playoffs, it wouldn’t be the lopsided of a game. Having seen Rye Neck twice and Valhalla three times this year, I think Valhalla wins this one with relative ease, but not in 18-1 fashion.
King (right) is going to have the game of her life — offensively and defensively — and there’s no sugarcoating that. The Panthers, who heavily rely on King’s pitching and their defense, will have to keep Valhalla below five runs if they want a shot at this game. Rye Neck scored one run in the previous loss, but it put a decent bat on the ball; a lot of them just didn’t find holes or were hit directly at Valhalla fielders.
Following its blueprint all season, Valhalla will start Alyssa Dolan on Saturday, after Syndi Holtz (left) pitched Thursday’s semifinal. Vikings head coach John Hayes said he’s been using a “5-and-2” system this year, in which one pitches five innings, the other relieves for the other two that game, then starts the next and throws five innings. In theory, Dolan will throw the first five innings and Holtz will relieve her, but if Dolan finds herself in an early jam, I doubt Hayes will hesitate to make a change.
My prediction: Valhalla is the better team. Rye Neck has the best pitcher, but the Vikings have a deeper lineup, a more powerful lineup, a remarkable defense and the confidence of winning last year (as well as the previous three). The Panthers have the talent to beat Valhalla, and I don’t this would be a shocking upset if they won, but they’re going to have to bring it on all levels. In the end, I say the Vikings win their fifth straight Class B title (and seventh overall, including Class C), 9-3.
Class AA final: No. 1 Clarkstown South vs. No. 2 North Rockland, 12 p.m. (noon)
I was at the Clarkstown South-North Rockland game (the one played at North Rockland) earlier this year when South won 3-2. I remember that the Red Raiders got hosed on a seventh-inning call that should’ve kept the inning alive, but that wouldn’t have guaranteed a North Rockland win.
There are two really good storylines with this game: Clarkstown South is making its first finals appearance since 1986 and it is the final year for Vikings head coach Maura Heebink, who has not won a title in her three-decade-plus career. North Rockland is looking to win its first title since 2010, and is also looking to do it on their home field.
It’s interesting to me (being a softball outsider in my first year) that there was no precaution taken in case North Rockland advanced to the final. I understand that since all three are scheduled there, it’s most convenient for everyone, but if I’m the team facing them in the finals (i.e. Clarsktown South, the higher seed, no less), I could see that being an unfair advantage. In volleyball, if the host team advances to the finals, the final is moved to a neutral site. I’m really not trying to stir anything up, and South has already proven it can beat North Rockland on the road, but I just found it interesting.
North Rockland got the best of the Vikings in their first meeting, but that was also Clarkstown South’s second game of the season, and it hasn’t lost since. North Rockland’s Kayla McDermott (above) has been sensational this year, winning 18 of the Red Raiders’ 20 games and in dominating fashion. The junior will go up against another player of the year candidate in Vikings junior catcher Sara Herskowitz (below), who has torn the cover off the ball this season.
My prediction: Much like the Class B final, North Rockland has the best pitcher in the class (and arguably the section), which it heavily relies upon. The Red Raiders have bats, but they are sporadic at times — sometimes bashing teams in and sometimes grinding to put a couple of runs together. Clarkstown South has a solid ace in Briana Keaveney, who is more of a finesse pitcher compared to McDermott, and a much deeper lineup than the Red Raiders.
I picked Clarkstown South to win at the start of the tournament because I thought it had the best road to the finals. North Rockland, having to go through likely Suffern/John Jay-East Fishkill and South to win is a tall task, but one it has taken on with relative ease.
Along with the honor that comes with being a No. 1 seed comes the pressure attached to it — you’re expected to win. Factor in that this is Heebink’s last year and the girls probably want to win more for her than themselves, and it’s a lot of weight to carry. North Rockland will have the familiarity of its home field and a raucous crowd (believe me) on its side.
All of that said, I think Clarkstown South wins it, 3-2.
Class A final: No. 1 Brewster vs. No. 2 Pearl River, 3 p.m.
Everything Brewster has worked for up until this point has led to the opportunity presented to it — a chance for an undefeated Section 1 championship. The Bears are the top-ranked team in the state, but the focus for now is on a section title.
Brewster is riding the momentum of an undefeated season, while Pearl River is the defending section champions and hasn’t allowed a run this postseason.
Pirates sophomore Emily Turilli (below) has been terrific in her first season as the full-time starting pitcher, and the Pirates’ have put together a well-balanced season. As Pearl River head coach Chris Woolgar stated in the beginning of the season, Pearl River boasts one of the top outfields in the state. With Brewster’s ability to put the ball in play, Pearl River’s outfield may keep the Pirates out of trouble where others have struggled to do so.
Brewster’s deep lineup should eventually get to Turilli and Co. in some capacity, but I’m not expecting either team to bash the other’s brains in. Pearl River’s lineup quietly flies under the radar due to the exceptional pitching it has gotten from Turilli and Jill Beckerle this year, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.
My prediction: There’s a reason that these two are in the final. I think this game will be won with pitching and defense — which team can keep the other from scoring.
It wouldn’t completely surprise me if this game ended in a 1-0 final with the only run coming on something like a passed ball, but I think there will be a little offense that gets through the few cracks in both team’s defenses.
For my final call of the day, I say Brewster wins 2-1, possibly walking off in extra innings.