Center Moriches catcher Taylor Johnston and pitcher Erin Cunningham both played against each other in Little League softball as youngsters. But their relationship goes back to a dance class they both were in at the age of 5.
That was a long time ago, because there was nothing graceful about the duo’s post-game celebration after Center Moriches' 10-0 win against Oyster Bay in the Long Island Class B championship game at Moriches Sports Complex on Saturday.
What kind of dancers were the two?
"We were just bad," Cunningham said.
The 5-1 Johnston tackled the 5-8 Cunningham and the Center Moriches players followed suit in a big pile right in the middle of the diamond after Cunningham’s 13th strikeout to end the game.
"I took her out. I was aiming for the knees and I took her out," said Johnston, who has caught Cunningham since middle school. "I couldn’t have asked for more from her. She was struggling a little bit in the beginning, but then she came back from that better than ever."
Cunningham struck out eight of the first 10 batters she faced through the first three innings. Meanwhile, Center Moriches (15-2-1) scored five times in the first inning and another in the third to take a 6-0 lead against Oyster Bay (7-14).
Center Moriches added four more runs in the fourth, highlighted by a two-run homer from sophomore Leah Franchi, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. She was a triple shy of the cycle. Kaylie Roberts added three hits and a run. Cunningham scored two runs with a walk for Center Moriches, which lost in the LIC in 2019 and last won an Long Island crown in 2016.
Cunningham was also superb in the circle with 13 strikeouts, two walks and allowed just three hits for the complete-game shutout thanks to a tricky screwball and effective rise pitch.
"She does a great job of keeping me on my game," said Cunningham of Johnston, "and we do a great job of working together."
As does the entire Center Moriches team, as 13 players saw action in the final.
"I think this is the culmination of a lot of work, and they earned it," said Center Moriches coach Rich Roberts, who later shared a long embrace with his daughter and first baseman, Kaylie.
There were many warm moments like that after the game, but none were more humorous than Johnston’s take down of Cunningham, that would have made Center Moriches wrestling coach Mike Koscinski proud.
"It’s an incredible feeling to be able to do that [win an LIC] with someone I’ve known since kindergarten, and that I played with all through middle and high school," Cunningham said. "It’s just incredible."