A repeat title in any sport at any level is as difficult a team challenge as there is, and even though defending Nassau County Class AA softball champion East Meadow cruised through the regular season and its first two playoff hurdles the final step against Oceanside was easier said than done.
After rallying from three runs down to take the opening game of the best-of-three championship series in walk-off fashion at Mitchel Athletic Complex, 5-4, on May 19, on senior Tianna LaRosa’s single, the top-seeded Lady Jets claimed their second consecutive crown the following afternoon with a 6-2 victory. The third-seeded Lady Sailors brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning, but East Meadow senior pitcher Kerri Shapiro got a fielder’s choice groundout to end it.
“Winning back-to-back championships is a tough thing,” East Meadow coach Stew Fritz said. “We realized very early in the season everyone was coming after us. Oceanside is well-coached and played a tremendous two games in this series.
“We dealt with some key injuries along the way, but our talent and depth got us through,” Fritz added. “We have 16 good players, and they’re hungry. They want more.”
The Lady Jets (18-2) will aim to repeat as Long Island Class AA champs on June 6 at Mitchel against a yet-to-be determined opponent from Suffolk County. Oceanside, which was blanked twice in the regular season by East Meadow, finished 14-10.
“We were big underdogs coming in, but we were confident and showed we belonged and could play with anyone,” Lady Sailors coach Joe Supple said. “I’m really proud of how we battled. Letting the first game get away was tough. It changed the whole series. When you have opportunities in big spots, you need to finish.”
Unlike Game 1 when Oceanside jumped to a 3-0 lead in the top of the third, marking East Meadow’s largest deficit of the year, on senior Ellen Derr’s RBI single and junior Claire McNamara’s two-run knock, the Lady Jets never trailed in the clincher. They led 3-0 after two innings, thanks in large part to Junior Kristen Lindquist’s two-run homer.
“It’s so exciting,” said East Meadow senior Claire Travis, who scored the tying run on Shapiro’s triple with none out in the bottom of the seventh in Game 1. “We play better under pressure. The first game was a wake-up call for us. I like that we showed we were able to fight from behind to win.”
Oceanside didn’t go quietly in Game 2, either. Sophomore Taylor Eisel, who had a walk-off homer against Mepham in the 10th inning of the semifinal series clincher, blasted a two-run homer with one out in the bottom of the sixth to cut East Meadow’s lead to 3-2. However, the Lady Jets tacked on three insurance runs in their final at-bat with Travis, Shapiro, and sophomore Crista SanAntonio getting RBIs.
“Every run is important,” Fritz said. “You can never have enough of a cushion at this time of year. Our hats are off to Oceanside. They kept coming at us.”
The Lady Sailors came out swinging in the bottom half of the seventh with singles by senior Paige Seitz, sophomore Grace Bandini, and junior Pryscilla Perez to load the bases, bringing the tying run to the plate, but Shapiro closed the door.