Commack’s Ariana Arato was never worried.
Even when East Islip’s young, gritty softball team opened up each of the first two innings with two hits, the sophomore centerfielder was confident in her teammate, senior pitcher Alyssa Bluethgen.
“Alyssa has the mentality to block all the negativity out,” Arato said. “We knew we were going to pick each other up.”
Indeed. Host and No. 2 Commack overcame an early one-run deficit and used a four-run fourth inning and two runs in the fifth en route to a 6-1 win against No. 7 East Islip in the Suffolk AA final, yesterday.
Commack (21-4) faces Nassau AA champ MacArthur (20-3) on Friday at Hofstra for the Long Island AA championship.
“We knew we had to stay confident and be strong,” Commack senior Annamarie Santangelo said. “We didn’t want to let East Islip’s opportunities get too big.”
They almost did. The Redmen’s Alise Colandro and Allison Dell’Orto opened the game with back-to-back doubles to give East Islip a 1-0 lead. However, Dell’Orto was tagged out in a rundown after getting too far off second base. The mistakes continued for East Islip (20-8) in the second after it opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Allison Franzese was doubled off first base on Katie Burk’s pop out.
The miscues later turned to the East Islip’s defense. A line drive off the bat of Bluethgen could not be caught with two outs in the fourth. After a walk, a single by Santangelo (2-for-3) tied the score, and aggressive base-running by pinch runner Emily Fox made it 2-1 on a throwing error. Next, a two-run double by Arato (1-for-3) gave the Cougars a 4-1 lead.
A two-out, two-run triple in the fifth from Bluethgen (2-for-3) was all the support she would need. The Oneonta-bound Bluethgen slowed down an East Islip offense that had scored 61 runs in its previous five games. Bluethgen allowed five base runners in the final five innings by hitting the corners and utilizing her change-up. She ended with seven strikeouts, two walks, and a run on six hits.
Still, the Redmen far exceeded coach Jason McGowan’s expectations, having played four times in four days in the loser’s bracket, and eight of the last 13 days.
“They are the toughest, most resilient team I’ve ever coach,” said McGowan, whose roster has no seniors and two juniors. (The rest are 8th, 9th, and 10th graders). “This group can do some major things for years to come.”
But this year belongs to Commack.
“We’ve struggled sometimes with our strength from top to bottom,” said Commack 12th year coach Harold Cooley. “But this is the best team I’ve ever had.”
Cooley’s 2016 squad will hold a special place in Commack history by winning a softball county title for the first time since 1989 – a span of 27 years.
“It’s an honor, honestly,” Bluethgen said. “People always talk about winning a championship, but to go out and do it, this is amazing.”