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Bayside softball wins for cancer-fighting coach

Bayside celebrates its victory over Francis Lewis. Photo by William Thomas
TimesLedger Newspapers

Bayside’s postgame celebrations this year might as well be sponsored by AT&T.

Just minutes after beating rival Francis Lewis 6-1 in PSAL Queens A-I softball April 3, the players were on the phone, dialing up Coach Steve Piorkowski.

“Everyone on the team says it: ‘Let’s do it for P,’” pitcher Heidi Gomez said, using Piorkowski’s nickname. “Make it for P.”

Piorkowski has been away from the team and from school since late January while battling a form of cancer that attacked the bone marrow of his C6 vertebra. The disease left him with a broken neck and wheelchair bound. It is not life-threatening, though, and Piorkowski hopes to be back by the playoffs if his treatment goes well.

In the meantime, his beloved team is playing for him. Bayside (5-1) dropped its league opener against Cardozo, but has now won five straight games. This one, against division favorite Francis Lewis (5-1), a semifinalist last year, was by far the biggest victory.

“To be the best, you have to beat the best,” Bayside interim Coach Maggie Kassimis said. “Everybody is looking up to them this year and hopefully our actions today just made a statement that [said], ‘Hey don’t forget about us, we’re still here.’”

Kassimis was a student of Piorkowski’s and assistant Coach Soribel Paulino played for him, graduating last year. Last month, the Bayside girls’ basketball team went on a magical run for Piorkowski, who had to leave the sideline just before the playoffs. The Commodores, under Coach Steve Scharf — another former student of Piorkowski’s — advanced to the PSAL Class A semifinals as a No. 38 seed in a field of just 40 teams.

On April 4, Gomez was the star. She gave up just one run on three hits in a complete-game performance. At bat, the sophomore went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. She put Bayside ahead for good in the first inning with a double, driving in Taylor Moy and Jackie Perno. Gomez made it 3-1 in the sixth with a run-scoring single that plated Tara Bernstein.

The Commodores got three more runs in the seventh on a Perno two-run single and a Moy run-scoring hit.

We just wanted to keep hitting, hitting no matter what,” Bernstein said. “We didn’t let our lead get to our head.”

Samantha Stelloh drove in Bianca Concepcion in the first inning to get Lewis within 2-1, but the Patriots didn’t score again. Lewis Coach Bryan Brown said Bayside clearly brought more intensity than his team and he thinks it has to do with Piorkowski.

“I think they play hard, they play for him,” Brown said. “They love him. He has a way with them. I’m sure they’re gonna play hard all season. The guy is a great coach.”

After the game and the celebration, Kassimis brought the players to right field in foul territory and they all sat down. Things took a serious tone when she brought up Piorkowski. His treatment, Kassimis told them, has been going well and the tumor is gone. The coaches are confident he will be back soon.

“Of course, they miss P,” Kassimis said. “We all wish he was here. But he’s coming back. We have something to look forward to. If anyone can do it, it’s definitely him.”

Until then, Piorkowski will be Bayside’s rallying cry.

“Every day at practice,” Gomez said. “Always. Everything is for P.”

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