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Christina Loeffler, Kelsey Leonard lead East Meadow to Nassau Class AA title

Christina Loeffler of East Meadow connects for a

Christina Loeffler of East Meadow connects for a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning of Game 3 of Nassau Class AA final against Long Beach at Mitchel Athletic Complex on Friday, May 26, 2017. Credit: James Escher

People around Nassau softball knew East Meadow’s Christina Loeffler was a dual threat that could hit home runs and win games. Friday she added a save to her list.

The Jets junior pitcher recorded the final three outs, and earlier homered, as top-seeded East Meadow defeated No. 3 Long Beach, 3-1, in Game 3 of a thrilling Nassau Class AA final at Mitchel Athletic Complex.

East Meadow (19-2) faces the Suffolk Class AA winner on Friday (June 2) at St. Joseph’s College. The Jets captured their first championship since winning back-to-back Nassau crowns in 2013 and 2014.

“I loved coming in to pitch,” said Loeffler, who lost in Game 2 on Wednesday. “I wanted to show them — I messed up the other day — and I’m here and I’m ready.”

Jets coach Stew Fritz surprised many by having Kelsey Leonard start in the circle.

“She pitched so well in relief in the prior game [on Wednesday],” Fritz said, “I wanted to give her a shot.”

It was Leonard who gave the Jets a much-needed shot in the arm. The senior captain went 5 1/3 innings and scattered four hits with three strikeouts and one walk for the win.

Fritz utilized an interesting strategy. Loeffler entered the game to pitch with two outs in both the first and third innings, because she was going to hit in the bottom half of both innings. (In softball, pitchers and catchers can be pulled for courtesy runners but can re-enter the game).

“I told them both we have two number ones,” Fritz said. “We don’t have a rotation. It’s just by feel. Last year the feeling wasn’t good and we lost. This year the feeling was a little better and they did a great job.”

Long Beach (14-9) took advantage of a throwing error in the first inning as Colleen Mannle scored to make it 1-0.

East Meadow rallied with two runs in the second. Julianna Sanzone scored on a double-steal to tie it and Sam Reyes came home on a Marines error to give the Jets a 2-1 lead.

Loeffler, who had 11 wins this season, hit her Nassau-leading ninth homer of the season in the third inning to close the scoring.

She did her own closing in the seventh. Loeffler induced a sacrifice out, a key strikeout with runners on second and third and a groundout to first baseman Emily Shurina to guide the Jets to a championship.

“We’ve been working all year for this,” Leonard said. “It’s what we wanted, and now we’ve done it.”

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