Francesca Casalino throws blanks as Hills West reaches 'AA' final

Sachem East's Kathryn Sullivan gets caught stealing second
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Sachem East's Kathryn Sullivan gets caught stealing second by Half Hollow Hills West's Nicole Graber in the ninth inning during the Suffolk Class AA softball winner's bracket final between Half Hollow Hills West and Sachem East on Friday, May 23, 2014. (Credit: Bob Sorensen)

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Step into Francesca Casalino's office.

Walk down the hallway at Half Hollow Hills West High School, enter the gym, and go to a small room that was once a storage closet. It has been transformed into a softball players-only lounge called "The Office" and it's fully equipped with a sofa, snacks, drinks and inspirational posters.

That's where Casalino could be found Friday, sprawled out on the couch in exhaustion, after tossing 10 shutout innings to lead Hills West to a 1-0 win over Sachem East in the Suffolk Class AA semifinals.

In her actual office -- the circle -- Casalino allowed five hits, walked none and struck out 14. She was intentionally walked in all four of her plate appearances.

"I'm tired," she said, "but if I had to go another few innings I could have."

She didn't have to thanks to Rose Cipoletti. Samantha Katz started the bottom of the 10th on second via the International Tiebreaker Rule and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Cipoletti then hit a hard chopper to short to drive in Katz, who slid home to beat the throw.

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"I was so focused," Cipoletti said. "All I wanted to do was help us move on to the next game and get to the next level."

Third-seeded Hills West (21-3) will host the county final at 4 p.m. on Thursday against No. 7 Hauppauge or No. 12 Sachem East in the double-elimination tournament.

Jamie Butalewicz allowed three hits in nine innings for the Flaming Arrows (17-7). Hills West had the winning run on third with two outs in the ninth, but Emily Corchia made a diving catch in shallow rightfield.

"It's a hard loss," Butalewicz said. "But this will fuel us even more to come out on top."

Casalino threw only two pitches in the 10th. With the tiebreaker rule in effect, the runner was bunted to third on the first pitch. On the next, Casalino used her rise ball to induce a popped bunt. Her younger sister, Gabby, made the catch and tossed to Nicole Graber at third to turn an inning-ending double play.

That set the stage for Cipoletti's winner, which put the Colts one win away from the program's first county title.

Francesca Casalino, however, downplayed the idea of making school history.

"I don't care about the history part," she said. "This is the greatest bunch of girls I've ever played with. I only care about winning it for our team. That would mean the world to me."

It would be a good day at the office.

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