Entering the 2011 varsity softball season, Rye Neck coach Joan Spedafino was concerned about the new league her Panthers were placed in. Rye Neck, a Class B school, was grouped with six teams, comprised of Class AA and Class A schools, including perennial Class A power, Harrison. Playing up did not intimidate the Panthers. Instead, it made the Panthers elevate their level of play and resulted in another excellent season for the 24-year coach.
Rye Neck went 18-5 and advanced to the sectional final for a second consecutive year. Valhalla bested Rye Neck, scoring twice in the seventh inning of a 3-1 win. The end result does not put a damper on the season, according to Spedafino, who has 388 wins, the most among active Section1 softball coaches. Retired Eastchester coach Skip Walsh is the Section 1 leader with more than 400 wins.
We were Harrison, Fox Lane, Horace Greeley, Port Chester, Rye and Byram Hills, Spedafino said. This is a very different league than we are used to, but the girls came in and worked hard every day. Playing against that level of competition was great because I felt it prepared us for sectionals.
Rye Neck ran off a 14-game winning streak during the regular season. The Panthers swept Horace Greeley and rallied from an early deficit to beat Fox Lane. When we came back to win the game against Fox Lane, after the two wins over Horace Greeley, I think it showed the girls we could play with anybody, Spedafino said.
Rye Neck advanced to the sectional final with a big win over Albertus Magnus. The Panthers were tested on the first pitch of the game when the third-base umpire called pitcher Jessica Calvini for an illegal pitch. Later in the inning, he called Calvini for another illegal pitch, resulting in a run scoring. The Panthers would answer with a two-out rally in the second inning, producing six runs. Calvini had a key run-scoring single in the uprising.
Calvini turned in an excellent season, becoming Rye Necks winningest pitcher and career leader in strikeouts. And she has one more year remaining. We had a 14-game winning streak and a lot of great things happened this year and we had some new stars, said Spedafino, citing the emergence of senior second baseman Ashley Cables.
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