Gwen Donaldson had a hard time explaining how she was able to come up with the clutch hit when her team needed it most. An eighth-grader, Babylon's second baseman said she doesn't get nervous or else she wouldn't be as effective as she has been this postseason.
Donaldson's one-out triple in the bottom of the seventh drove in the tying run against East Rockaway in the Long Island Class B softball championship game Tuesday at St. Joseph's College.
The hit was followed by Miranda Richards' single that gave Babylon a 7-6, walk-off win. The Panthers (17-5) will play Marlboro in the Southeast Regional final at 4 p.m. Wednesday at St. Joseph's.
"I tried to pretend that it was the beginning of the game," Donaldson said. "Don't be nervous because bad things will happen. We believe in one another."
Richards went into her final at-bat with the thought process of her ballclub having another inning to play.
"And that's when I heard everyone cheering my name," Richards said. "Gwen got me going with that big hit. I prayed and swung and was able to clear my mind just in time."
While the Panthers had their young star come up big in a big spot, East Rockaway's freshman pinch hitter was equally as clutch in the top of the sixth. Marisa Felbinger's two-run triple capped a three-run inning that gave the Rocks (22-6) a 6-5 lead.
"I'm speechless," said Felbinger, who scored earlier in the inning as a courtesy runner. "I thought we were in good shape. Just a great game.''
East Rockaway starter Gianna Cilluffo, who went 4-for-4 with an RBI and a run, agreed.
"It was a very back-and-forth game," Cilluffo said. "We played our hardest. I couldn't be any more proud of this team. They're underdogs just like us."
Making its fourth consecutive Long Island championship game appearance, Babylon and coach Rick Punzone thrive on that refuse-to-lose attitude. "We've been playing behind all year," Punzone said. "We've always found a way to win. It's a tribute to these girls. This doesn't get old."
East Rockaway coach Joe Lores thanked Darien High School in Connecticut for raising enough funds for equipment, enabling the Rocks to continue playing this season after superstorm Sandy.
"We wouldn't be here without them,'' said Lores, who held practice and home games this season at Rhame Elementary School. "These kids on my team were an inspiration. They now have plaques to hang on their walls: Nassau County champs."