East Meadow softball coach Stew Fritz always looks at the bright side and has confidence in his team.
So when the Lady Jets fell behind Longwood by four runs after a half-inning of last Saturday evening’s Long Island Class AA championship game at Hofstra, the even-keeled Fritz just wanted to make sure they didn’t dwell on it.
“My message to the girls was to relax and chip away,” he said. “I didn’t want the game to get away from us early. I told them we’ve got seven innings to hit and if we can score once every inning, we’d be good to go. That’s easier said than done, but we’re battle-tested.”
East Meadow scored once in the second, twice in the third, twice in the fourth and won in thrilling walk-off fashion, 6-5, when senior Sam Reyes raced home on junior Amy Mallah’s one-out single in the bottom of the seventh.
“I’m so happy we all just stayed focused and it feels amazing to pull out the win,” said Reyes, who drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on senior pitcher Christina Loeffler’s single and took third on a fielder’s choice. “We fell behind so fast, but we kept cheering each other on and we knew we could do it,” she added.
It’s the second straight L.I. crown for the Lady Jets (19-5), who go for back-to-back state titles this Saturday at the Town of Moreau Recreational Park in Saratoga County. They’ll meet Ballston Spa in the semifinals at 9 a.m., with the winner advancing to face Minisink Valley or Victor in the final at 1:30 p.m.
“We’re all enjoying the ride,” Fritz said. “We might not have scored in the first inning, but I like the way we hit the ball hard against a quality pitcher we hadn’t faced before. In a funny way that gave us a little confidence.”
Loeffler allowed just one hit and no runs over the final four innings after Longwood (21-3) took a 5-1 lead in the top of the third. East Meadow cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the frame on a clutch two-out, two-run single off the bat of sophomore Juliana Sanzone that brought in Reyes and sophomore Jenna Laird.
“I felt that was the biggest hit of the game,” Fritz said. “It really allowed us to take a deep breath. It showed we could take a punch and punch back.”
Loeffler had her first of three straight 1-2-3 innings in an eight-pitch top of the fourth and the Lady Jets kept the offense going and pulled even with the help of a few errors. Senior catcher Sara Polansky led off the bottom of the fourth with a single and there were two runners in scoring position after sophomore Amanda Thompson reached on an error. One out later, Laird drove in Polansky with a hard-hit grounder to second that went for an error and allowed Thompson to score and made it 5-5.
“It took us a while, but we finally had momentum,” Reyes said.
Sanzone (3-for-4) doubled to open the bottom of the sixth and was on third with one out but Longwood pitcher Emily Koerick got a soft pop back to the mound and a long flyout to center to escape the jam. The Lady Lions loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but Loeffler recorded a groundout to Laird at shortstop to escape trouble.
“Christina’s a championship pitcher,” Fritz said. “We all had faith she’d shut them down after the first inning.”