At a critical moment midway through her team’s trailblazing softball season, Valley Stream North junior first baseman Emily Rung went rogue.
Sitting 7-2 on April 19, the Spartans had already ensured their best record in six seasons under coach Dan Tronolone, and now they’d gone into extra innings at Nassau Conference 3 rival South Side.
Looking to aid a planned steal attempt by three-time All-County catcher Kayla Santo, who had doubled for VSN leading off the eighth, Tronolone sent the sign in to batter Rung: fake bunt. Rung nodded, but overrode, opting to keep it real. Her bunt was so well-paced Santo raced home from second with the winning run. VSN – long accustomed to sub.-500 finishes – notched its eighth win in nine games, 3-2 over South Side, as a new reality set in.
“I think from that point on the girls started believing they were legit,” said Tronolone, whose club finished third in Conference 3 at 11-5, 13-6 overall, to post its first winning season in Tronolone’s tenure and most wins in more than a decade.
As for Rung’s executive decision? “It worked,” Tronolone said succinctly. “We won.”
Indeed. Led by ace Christina Ravo – who doubled her previous season high to rank second in Conference 3 with 12 wins and set career marks in strikeouts (144) and earned run average (1.43) in earning All-County honors – VSN reached double digits in wins for the first time in 12 seasons.
“I told the girls early that, while it maybe wasn’t necessarily the case in years past, they really were capable of winning,” Tronolone said. “It took a while, but at a certain point, after so many wins, they started to believe.”
In a storybook season that at times strained even the credulity of its authors, perhaps no part was more implausible than the ending. Due in large part to a new postseason format, the Spartans – whose league record matched second-place rival Baldwin’s – were shut out of this year’s county Class A playoffs, ending a streak of four straight postseason berths.
“It’s disappointing,” Tronolone said. “But overall, the season was a success. The girls invested and it showed. It’s one of the best teams I’ve coached.”
Along with seniors Santo and Ravo – club leaders with three and two home runs, respectively – VSN's awardees this spring included freshman outfielder Tiffany Melendez, who led the Spartans batting .569 and stole a team-best 15 bases in her second straight Honorable Mention All-County campaign, while junior shortstop Alyanna Nadal (.324 average) took All-Conference honors for her two-way contributions.
Spartans senior Grace Mastandrea – who parlayed a stint subbing at catcher into a regular lineup spot, shifting to DH and right field after Santo’s return from an early-season injury – hit .423 to finish fourth on the team in batting. “We couldn’t take Grace out,” Trononlone said. “She became very important to our lineup.”
“This whole group of kids worked hard, never missed practice, and it showed in the results,” Tronolone summarized. “They actually cared, which was nice to see. And they had by far the best chemistry of any team I’ve coached.”
“They had fun, too,” he added. “And I think that translated to more wins.”