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Suffolk Softball Sensations: Francesca Casalino, Half Hollow Hills West
As sure-handed as Francesca Casalino is in the circle for the Half Hollow Hills West softball team, the junior right-hander is as well spoken and professional off it.
In her third varsity season, Casalino is one of the main reasons the Colts (12-4) are right at the top of the League IV standings with Hauppauge (12-3) and Riverhead (12-4).
Entering the League IV Deer Park game May 7, Casalino had pitched 90 innings, allowing 11 earned runs, while striking out 162 and walking 31, to go with her 10-4 record (0.769 winning percentage) with a 0.856 ERA.
Add another win to Casalino’s seasonal stats, which also include three more hits allowed, 15 more strikeouts and no walks following the Colts’ 1-0, eight inning triumph over the Falcons.
"I think this year is the best so far," Casalino said. "We're literally family. We have a lot of family members on the team. The way we get along has been the best so far. No problems. We all truly care about each other."
It's certainly music to the ears of Half Hollow Hills West coach Rob Rizzo, who leans on his All-State pitcher as a sophomore to lead the way for his ball club consisting of half upperclassmen and half underclassmen, as Casalino described it.
"The girls expect to look up to her," Rizzo said. "She has the accolades and awards to help carry her into that leader. She doesn't let her teammates down. She has that air about her that that's the way it's supposed to be done."
Take the League III-IV crossover game against North Babylon on April 23 as an example. In the Colts' 9-1 win, Casalino pitched a two-hitter, allowing an earned run, while striking out a career-high 17 and walking one.
Three days later against Newfield in League IV, Casalino tossed a three-hitter, struck out 15 and walked one during Half Hollow Hills West's 11-1 win over Newfield. She also went 5-for-5, with three RBIs.
"It's hard to explain," said Rizzo, regarding Casalino's command in the circle. "When you have a pitcher that is that dominant, where she's striking out 13 per game out of 21 batters, and she's accounting for two-third's of our outs without us catching the ball, it says a lot."
In both wins, Casalino struck out the first 10 batters she faced.
"I love pitching," Casalino said. "You have so many games within the overall game. It's about the little battles. They show me that if you do the little things right, you can have a positive impact on your team."
Batting third, Casalino is doing the job clearing the base paths. In 16 games played and 58 plate appearances (50 AB), Casalino has 30 hits, 19 singles, 10 doubles, one homer, eight walks and only three strikeouts. She's batting .570, with an on-base percentage of .655, a slugging percentage of .860, with 16 RBIs and 15 runs.
Before Jessica Kleet’s RBI double plated Alyse McAlpine with the winning run in Half Hollow Hills West’s aforementioned win against Deer Park, Casalino shined through the weekly question and answer session.
1) What's your favorite pitch, go-to pitch in a big spot? “I love all my pitches—two-seam fastball, drop, curve, change, rise and screw. In any situation, I can read the batter. If they expect a rise ball, I go drop. If they expect a curveball, I throw a screwball. Because I have six pitches, they all have great movement. They all break different ways, different speeds that I can keep batters off-balance. The pitch I throw all depends on where the batter is standing in the box. If they’re pulling off the ball, you can throw a drop, or changeup, because they won’t touch it.”
2) Biggest out recorded in your career? “In a scrimmage earlier this season against Bay Shore, I threw a rise ball to Courtney Syrett. She checked her swing and walked, but we both felt it could have been an out. I played travel ball with her for the first time on the Team Long Island Gold last summer and in my first practice with her, I was awestruck. It blew my mind how good she was, hitting and catching. Wow! Just the realization that I was playing with these caliber of girls.
3) Biggest hit? "Freshman year, Suffolk Class AA quarterfinals against West Babylon. We had beaten them once and lost to them once in the regular season. Taylor Webb was their senior right-handed pitcher that season. We were down a run late and I got a base hit to bring in the tying run to force extra innings. We had a team of seniors that season, so for a freshman to do something, it was exciting.”
4) Game of the Year this season? “Believe it or not, I think the 1-0 loss to East Islip [April 10]. It was an unearned run. We were 4-0 going in. That game really showed us that we have to work this season. We started to take things more serious as a team. We kind of got a wake-up call. Our upperclassmen had to step up as leaders of the underclassmen, be good role models for them.”
5) What's your favorite iPod song? “Viva La Vida, by Coldplay. It means ‘Live Your Life’ in Italian and Spanish. I love the saying ‘Shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you land upon the stars’. That song really excites me about everything I do because I know if I try my hardest, great things will happen.”
6) A) Who is the most vocal Colts' member? B) Who makes you laugh? "A) Kleet, our first baseman. She and I are co-captains. She really motivates us, gets us into games, a great leader. I know she will come up big in a big spot. She gets the team going. B) My sis, Gabrielle Casalino [freshman, third baseman/right-fielder] and my cousin Danielle Cardito [center fielder/outfielder] make me laugh. We have the best of times, make fun of each other, always laughing and enjoying ourselves. First time on the team together because the ages don’t always work. We all support each other because we love each other.”
7) Any superstitions? “Before I go out to the circle, I always switch the ball. I feel like there’s dust on it. I do this every inning, ask for a new ball. It’s a fresh start, new inning.”
8) What are you planning on majoring in during college that will help you for your professional career? Law school for sports management.
9) Three places you would love to visit that you haven't been to yet? “Paris, California and Italy. I’ve been to Italy, but I want to go again and see the places I haven’t seen.”
10) You're on a dinner date with three famous people. Who are they? "Leonardo DiCaprio, Eli Manning and Prince William."
11) Favorite movie? "Inception."
12) Nickname? “’Frannie’. Because it distinguishes me from everyone else.”
13) If you were the coach of your team for a day, what would you do differently? “I’d put a bunch of competition games in practice, so we’d work on different aspects of the game. I love competition because you want to do better and work harder.”