While gusty wind stirred swirls of dust all around the infield Thursday, Kings Park pitcher Cassie Cancemi was a picture of calm and poise.
Before every pitch, the freshman righthander walked behind the circle, briefly flicked her fingers to her mouth, snapped the ball purposely into her mitt, stood tall on the rubber, stretched both arms high in the air, stepped and fired.
More often than not, the ball reached the mitt of catcher Ariana Ambrosio with no harm done. Cancemi struck out 12 and allowed four hits in outdueling Half Hollow Hills West's Yale-bound mound whiz Francesca Casalino, 1-0, in a Suffolk League III softball game.
"It's a habit. I step back to take a breath and clear my head," said Cancemi, who walked two and finished strong with five consecutive strikeouts in the sixth and seventh. "I like to build momentum as the game goes on."
All that poise and calm -- not to mention a rising fastball and darting curve -- wouldn't have meant much if host Kings Park (9-4) hadn't pushed across a run against Casalino, who struck out nine and also allowed only four hits.
"Every pitch really counts in a game like that," Cancemi said. "It actually makes me pitch harder."
Not necessarily faster, however. "I really like my curve," she said of her signature strikeout pitch.
Kings Park's winning rally began with a sharp single to left by Rhode Island-bound shortstop Paige Julich in the home sixth. She stole second and then daringly advanced to third when the throw bounced a short distance away.
"I was determined to get to third. I hesitated for a little, then I went, and slid right in," Julich said of the close play. "I'm aggressive on the bases."
With one out, Ambrosio helped her battery mate with a line-drive RBI single to left.
"I had missed an opportunity earlier and I wasn't going down without a fight," Ambrosio said. "I hit an inside fastball and it really felt good to do it for Cassie. She was hitting her spots. When she does that, she's unhittable."
In the top of the seventh, Cancemi struck out the first two batters before Rose Cipoletti beat out an infield roller and stole second for Hills West (10-3). Leadoff batter Alyse McAlpine, a tough out, lofted one down the leftfield line that was caught on the run by Lexi Dolan to end the game.
Said Cancemi: "It was a little nerve-wracking."