By Andrew Wroblewski
You never take your best player out of the game.
Especially not if her name is Francesca Casalino.
“Never in a million years would I take her out, even if it was 12-0,” Bill Mitaritonna, head coach of Half Hollow Hills West softball, said of his senior ace after she had went down 3-0 in the first two innings on Thursday. “She’s the toughest, mentally strongest player I have ever seen.”
On May 29, though, in the Suffolk Class AA championship against No. 7 Hauppauge (18-7), Casalino looked shaky when she started the game by walking four batters, hitting another, and giving up 3 runs on 3 hits in the first two innings.
“We battled back; that was the key,” Mitaritonna said as he team ultimately prevailed 4-3. “That’s what [Casalino] knows; she knows that she’s got backup and, if she gets down, she knows we’re going to come back.”
The Colts did just that with a 2-out rally in the sixth inning started by sophomore left fielder Renee Pino.
Huge hits by Rose Cipoletti, sophomore right fielder, and Nicole Graber, sophomore shortstop, tied the game at 3 as freshman catcher, Alexandra Parkas, came to the plate. Parkas ripped, what turned out to be, a game-winning RBI double into right field to give No. 3 Hills West (22-3) the lead and its first-ever Suffolk County softball championship, according to Mitaritonna.
“I’m so proud that everyone stepped up that inning,” Casalino said of her team’s rally. “It’s been a different girl every game, but with [Pino and Rose] starting it, that inning it was huge.”
With the opportunity to close out the game and bring the Colts to victory, Casalino took to the mound in the top of the seventh.
Without much surprise, she succeeded.
“I trusted myself; I have to – I knew that, if I don’t, then [that inning] isn’t going to turn out well,” Casalino said of the seventh inning, where she retired the side in just eight pitches. “I knew that I can do it, I knew I’ve done it before, and I knew my team was right behind me so I had confidence in us and I was just happy to get it done.”
Casalino finished the game with 11 strikeouts, while walking four batters and allowing six hits.
At the plate, Casalino walked all three times she appeared, but was helped out by Graber, who had a huge day at the plate, with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored while going 2-for-4 with two doubles.
Next up for the Colts: a date with East Meadow (18-2), Nassau County’s champion.
“They have the second best player on the island, Kerri Shapiro,” Mitaritonna said of East Meadow. “[Casalino] is the best and [Shapiro] is the second best so it’s going to be a great matchup.”
The Long Island championship game will take place at the Mitchel Athletic Complex, in Uniondale, on Friday at 4 p.m.