9-to-11-Year-Old Girls 2nd in State

“There’s some real talent on this team, at all the positions."
Above, Julia Kuneth awaits the pitch. Below, Mike Ruddy, the head coach, tells Gabrielle Payne to head for home. William Kuneth Photos

East Hampton’s 10-11-year-old Little League all-star softball team did itself proud in a state tournament this past week, finishing as the runner-up among the Final Four contenders.

It was the first time that a Little League team from Bonac had played for a state championship. Little League baseball teams from here have won regional games, but none have made it off the Island.

“These girls are athletes,” William Kuneth, one of whose daughters, Katie, pitched all five games in which the young Bonackers played. “There’s some real talent on this team, at all the positions — there are real hitters, real pitchers, real catchers, and real competitors. You’re going to see a strong high school team here in the near future.”

“You could see the pride oozing from the parents,” he said, adding that “just about all of them, about 30 in all,” had made the six-hour trip up the Thruway to Glens Falls, where the tournament was played from July 25 through Saturday. Tim Fromm, an assistant principal at East Hampton High School, who was vacationing with his family at Lake George, also was there, said Kuneth.

East Hampton lost its first two games, by scores of 3-1 and 17-9 to LaGrange and Pearl River, the eventual champion, but came back to defeat Snug Harbor of Staten Island 11-6 before topping LaGrange 8-6 in their second meeting in the semifinals. With two runners on, one out, and the potential winning run at the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning, Katie Kuneth closed it out with two groundouts.

Andy Baris, who assisted Mike Ruddy in coaching the team, said afterward that “the girls didn’t know what to expect when they first got up there, they were a little bit apprehensive, but they stepped up to the plate and finished as the second team in the state. It was a helluva ride. The girls played with a helluva lot of heart. It’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

“We had a great experience going to the states,” Ruddy said in an email. “All 13 of our talented kids contributed to our success. Our regular-season Little League coaches deserve credit for how well prepared the girls were.” Six of the 13, he said, were Montaukers coached in the regular season by Heather Payne, one of his traveling team assistants, who is in her fifth year as a Little League coach. “Our Little League board led by Steve Minskoff and Lara Siska does a great job in organizing our league,” he added.

“They came together beautifully as a team,” said Payne, “from starting off as Reds, Giants, Blue Jays, and Diamondbacks in the beginning to ending up as fiercely competitive Bonackers cheering one another on. When Sophia Rodriguez made that great double play in the third game they all made that double play, when Katie Kuneth dug deep to get a needed strikeout, they all got that strikeout, when Susie DiSunno didn’t allow anyone to steal home in the final, they were all strong at the plate. It was a great experience for them and for the parents and coaches as well.”

Snug Harbor, which Pearl River finished off in three innings in Saturday’s other semifinal, “had some big hitters, they were huge, but we beat the pants off them,” Baris said of the win that had vaulted East Hampton into the semifinal matchup with LaGrange. 

“One of the keys,” said Baris, “was that Mike, who thought we needed more batting practice, found a batting cage. We used it Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings. After those batting practice sessions we were ready to go.”

“The tournament director said that our second game with LaGrange was the most competitive one he’d seen in the tournament. Sienna Salamy, our right fielder, made two great catches in that game, which if she hadn’t made them would have been game-changers.”

Pearl River downed East Hampton 6-1 in the final, Baris said. “We were a little tired going into it, an hour after our second game with LaGrange, but we did respectably, especially when you consider they’d ‘mercied’ everyone else. They were a good team.”

Kuneth added that “East Hampton was the only team in the tournament to take Pearl River the full six innings and keep them under 10 runs. . . . We’re considering it a win.”

Gabrielle Payne, who led the team at the plate, with 14 hits in 17 at-bats, was the recipient of the tourney’s sportsmanship award, Baris said. “Katie was excellent, she kept us in games. She was given a game ball. Gabby was given a game ball too. . . .”

The elder Kuneth said, “We had a number of triples and a handful of double plays . . . it was really exciting to see the girls, who came from different parts of our town — some of them didn’t even know each other before the postseason began — playing as one.”

“I don’t know who had more fun — the parents or the children,” he continued. “We all stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. In between the games was pizza, miniature golf, and ice cream. We all went out for ice cream at Lake George after the last game.”

Baris agreed. “There was a lot of downtime, so the parents and the kids did a lot of things together. That was a great part of it.”

Aside from the above-named, East Hampton’s roster comprised Kerri O’Donnell, Sophia Rodriguez, Georgia Kenny, Harper Baris, Lila Ruddy, Susie DiSunno, Julia Kuneth, Amina Guebli, Cloe Ceva, and Paige Herlihy.

Left, Susie DiSunno steals second. Right, Katie Kuneth unleashes a fastball.
Front row, from left: Susie DiSunno, Harper Baris, Amina Geubli, Gabrielle Payne, Lila Ruddy, and Katie Kuneth; middle row: Kerri O’Donnell, Sophia Rodriguez, Sienna Salamy, Paige Herlihy, and Julia Kuneth; atop the pyramid: Cloe Ceva and Georgia Kenny, with the coaches Andy Baris, Mike Ruddy, and Heather Payne. William Kuneth