Birkenstock’s defense sparks Dukes in regional playoff

By Mike Zummo
Posted 6/5/24

Everyone talks about Kalista Birkenstock’s hitting and what she can do to an opposing team on the bases. Very few talk about her defense.

However, she made a throw to the plate in the top …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Birkenstock’s defense sparks Dukes in regional playoff


Everyone talks about Kalista Birkenstock’s hitting and what she can do to an opposing team on the bases.
Very few talk about her defense.

However, she made a throw to the plate in the top of the sixth inning that cut down the Section 4 champion Maine-Endwell Spartans’ Kaylee Hurba at home plate to short-circuit a rally and preserve the Marlboro Dukes’ 5-2 victory on Friday in a New York State Public High School Athletic Association regional championship game at Monroe-Woodbury High School in Central Valley.

“I love her at shortstop because even with a ground ball up the middle, I know she always has my back,” Marlboro pitcher Leah Gunsett said. “I always feel like after every inning, I’m coming and saying, ‘thank you, Kalista, for saving my butt.’”

With the Dukes leading 5-1 in the sixth inning, Tessa L’Amoreaux blasted a double off the left field fence. Left fielder Lily Sullivan got to it quickly, hit Birkenstock, who rifled the relay throw home to cut down Hurba to end the sixth inning.

“Honestly, I don’t even think about it,” Birkenstock said. “All reactions are all natural. I heard ‘four’ and I just turned around and threw it.”

The throw was right on the money, allowing Emma Jackson to apply the tag, sending the Dukes to the bottom of the sixth.

After a scoreless inning, Gunsett worked around a leadoff single, striking out her opposite number, Lauren Dundon to end the game, and send the Dukes to their third straight Final Four.

“It’s so special because, honestly, these girls are my sisters,” Gunsett said. “They’re my family. I spend every day with them. I love them so much more than anyone, sometimes more than my own family. It’s just so special because everything I do is for them, and I’m just so happy to experience it with them.”

Birkenstock started things off, and from the jump, the Spartans were “Kalista-ed.”

She led off with a bunt single, stole second, stole third and scored on Taylor Castellani’s sacrifice fly, giving Marlboro a 1-0 lead.

“I think it’s really important, especially being the leadoff batter, it sets the tone for the rest of the game,” Birkenstock said. “I think that once you get that first run, sometimes the other team gets a little defeated, and I think our momentum just kept going.”

The Dukes loaded the bases and got another run after they loaded the bases and got a run in on Kiera Del Salto’s groundout.

They added two more in the third inning when Castellani doubled, and Jackson walked. Castellani scored when Gunsett reached on an error, and Del Salto drove in the Dukes’ fourth run with a groundout.

Birkenstock set up another run with two outs in the fourth inning. She singled, stole second and scored on Castellani’s single up the middle.

“She gives me one pitch to go, and then I give her the rest of her at-bat,” Birkenstock said.

The Dukes opened the week with a 5-2 win over Section 1 champion Pearl River in the regional semifinal on May 28. Jackson hit a three-run triple.

Gunsett and Sullivan also had RBI singles in the Dukes’ five-run fifth inning.

The Dukes will move on to the NYSPHSAA Final Four against the Ichabod Crane Riders, who handed them a 7-1 loss in last year’s state championship game, at 9 a.m. Friday at the Martha Avenue Recreation Complex in Bellport.

“Last year, we were right in it with them,” Birkenstock said. “We just did not play our best game. A lot of people can say that. If we just play our game and we come out stronger than we did last year, I think we will be very competitive.”

The winner will play in the championship game at 10 a.m. Saturday between the winner of the other semifinal between Section 6 Iroquois or Section 5 Sutherland and Section 11 Miller place.

“Obviously, last year didn’t go to what we wanted it to when we played them last year,” Marlboro coach Andrea Schoonmaker said. “But this year we’re coming out for revenge.”