Hills West rallies to beat Hauppauge in Suffolk Class AA softball championship

Half Hollow Hills West teammates celebrate with pitcher Half Hollow Hills West teammates celebrate with pitcher Francesca Casalino, second from left, after the final out was recorded in their 4-3 win over Hauppauge in the Suffolk County varsity softball final at Hills West on Thursday, May 29, 2014. Photo Credit: James Escher

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Half Hollow Hills West was not used to being behind in the playoffs.

Senior ace Francesca Casalino had pitched four consecutive shutouts entering Thursday's Suffolk AA championship softball game, but that streak ended quickly against No. 7 Hauppauge when Casalino walked four batters and allowed three runs over the first two innings at Hills West.

Although they trailed early, the Colts came away with the victory, 4-3, behind a two-out rally in the sixth inning, and advanced to the regional final on June 6 against East Meadow at Mitchel Field.

"They got on top of me early," Casalino said. "I was hitting my spots and not giving them anything good to hit and that backfired on me with the walks. They definitely had great eyes. I was being a little too precise and was too picky because I knew they are good hitters."

Things looked bleak for No. 3 Hills West (22-3) as Hauppauge starter Lauren Buturla was throwing a gem herself.

Buturla struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the sixth before allowing a base hit to Renee Pino. Rose Cipoletti then singled to put the tying run on base.

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Shortstop Nicole Graber followed with a tough at-bat before finally sending a 2-and-2 pitch to the wall in left-center for a two-run double that tied the game.

"That's the way we've done it all year -- with two outs," coach Bill Mitaritonna said. "We've come back in every game this tournament or won it late. What an amazing group."

The rally wasn't done.

Freshman catcher Alex Parkas took the next pitch from Buturla and lined it past the second baseman to bring Graber home. "Coach said to try and take the ball to rightfield and that's what I did," Parkas said.

After that it was up to Casalino to nail down the win. She struck out the first batter in the seventh before inducing a fly ball to right. She also got an assist from her sister, Gabrielle, who made a diving stop and throw from her knees at third base to seal the win.

Casalino finished with 11 strikeouts, allowed six hits and walked four.

"She is an amazing competitor. She goes down with the great athletes we've had at Hills West like Tobias Harris and Tavon Sledge," said Mitaritonna, who also coaches boys basketball. Harris plays for the Orlando Magic and Sledge played basketball at Iowa State and Iona.

"She refuses to lose and [she] believes in her teammates," Mitaritonna said.

Her run isn't over though.

"We're so determined and have great resilience no matter what the score or inning is," Casalino said.

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"We want it so bad and we'll do anything we can to get it done."

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