Oh, those poor middle-schoolers. They were stunned and terrified when their numbers were called Saturday.
"Really?" Hauppauge's Jillian Choinski said sheepishly. "But, but, I'm only an eighth-grader."
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She and Taylor Hux were worried about how they would perform in the spotlight, and teammates looking on anxiously and snapping photos surely didn't alleviate any tension.
Relax. It's only a postgame interview.
After all, Choinski and Hux had earned it, because when the pressure was really on just minutes earlier, the young players calmly delivered.
Hux singled in the tying run in the sixth and Choinski followed with an RBI triple as No. 7 Hauppauge rallied to beat 10th-seeded Centereach, 3-2, in the first round of the Suffolk Class AA playoffs.
"I was nervous, to be honest," Hux said. She was talking about her clutch at-bat this time. "But you try to let the pressure be your motivation."
The eighth-grader's bloop single to right scored Samantha Ferreri to tie it at 2. Ferreri had led off with a walk and Christina Constantine reached on a throwing error, putting runners at second and third. Hux's hit, Choinski said, "was what brought us back and gave us all the momentum."
The Eagles (16-5) threatened a big inning, but Kaitlyn Snyder lined out to center, setting up a spectacular 8-2 double play in which Karly Sauve made the catch in medium center and fired a laser to nab a sliding Constantine at home. (Rightfielder Heather Cicinnati made a similar play to end the fifth inning.)
So up came Choinski, with two outs. "There was a lot of pressure," she said, "but I tried to calm myself down."
Choinski swung at the first pitch -- it was toward the inside corner, her "favorite spot" -- and drilled a booming liner to right-centerfield that scored Hux. "It was the farthest ball she's ever hit in her life!" Eagles coach Jimmy McGowan said.
Lauren Buturla earned the win, escaping a two-on, one-out jam in the seventh by inducing two grounders to Hux at third base.
Choinski scored on an error to put Hauppauge on the board in the third, but Centereach answered. Juliana Gamble scored on an error in the fifth, and Tia LaPuma's RBI single put the Cougars ahead in the sixth.
"I was nervous and confident at the same time," McGowan said. " have been on the team since seventh grade and they just continue to get better."
And the stakes continue to get higher. Hauppauge visits No. 2 Eastport-South Manor in the second round at 4 p.m. Monday.
Buturla admitted her "changeup was inconsistent." But the righthander used her drop effectively, wiggled out of trouble, and allowed six hits and one earned run in the complete game.
Her counterpart, Karissa Menzinger, struck out three in a complete game for the Cougars (15-6), whose 15 wins are the program's most since 1982.
"We have all the confidence in to come through in those big spots," said Buturla, a senior. "Even though they're so young."
And it could soon be opponents left saying this: But, but, they're only in eighth grade!