East Islip starting pitcher Caitlin Ropiak delivers a pitch against...

East Islip starting pitcher Caitlin Ropiak delivers a pitch against West Islip in the Suffolk Class AA softball finals on Saturday, May 25, 2024. Credit: George A Faella

On the back of each of the East Islip softball players’ cleats reads two words — “GRIND” on one shoe and “GRIT” on the other.

On Saturday, no one embodied that mentality more than eighth-grade pitcher Caitlin Ropiak.

With her team facing elimination, Ropiak struck out 13 and allowed only four hits in a complete game. She also hit the go-ahead RBI single in the sixth inning to lead No. 3 East Islip to a 2-1 win over No. 2 West Islip in the final round of the Suffolk Class AA double-elimination playoffs at Martha Avenue Recreational Park in Bellport.

East Islip (19-7) handed West Islip (19-5) its first loss of the postseason, forcing a winner-take-all title game between the two teams at 10 a.m. Monday at the same location.

“Ice in her veins,” East Islip coach Jason McGowan said of Ropiak’s pitching performance. “The moment is never too big for her. Think about what she did these playoffs with Westhampton, Smithtown West, even the West Islip loss, today, West Bab — she’s just rolling. She’s rolling.

“She’s mature beyond her years. She’s just so mentally tough. Like I said, ice in her veins, baby. She’s ready to rock, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”

Ropiak struck out the side in the sixth inning and struck out the final batter of the game after West Islip put runners on first and third with two outs.

“I was just really putting trust in myself and my teammates, and I knew they had my back,” Ropiak said. “So I was just going to do it, and they would have my back.”

West Islip pitcher Emily Bouros tossed a perfect first three innings. Lexi Kneisel was hit by a pitch to start the top of the fourth inning, though, and stole second. After Bouros struck out the next two batters, Kayla Varga poked one to rightfield to drive in Kneisel and give East Islip a 1-0 lead.

The Lions tied it at 1 in the fifth with a successful double steal with two outs and runners on first and third. Isabella Treanor stole second to draw a throw, and Alexa Reale, who was on third, just beat the throw home to even things.

With two outs in the top of the sixth, East Islip broke through with three consecutive singles. Reagan O’Hara hit one to rightfield and Varga notched her second hit, this one to left. Facing a 2-and-2 count, Ropiak roped a single to left for the ultimate winning run.

“With that two-out rally, I wasn’t surprised,” McGowan said. “And then the fact that [Ropiak] got the game-winning hit, icing on the cake, man.”

West Islip beat East Islip, 2-1, on May 17 to advance in the winners’ bracket. East Islip won three straight — beating No. 4 Westhampton, No. 1 Smithtown West and then No. 5 Deer Park — to get another crack at the Lions. Despite not starting anyone older than 10th grade and featuring seventh-graders on the roster, East Islip is now one win away from its second county crown in three years.

“If we can beat them now, then we can beat them anytime,” Ropiak said. “We can beat anyone. We just have to put in the work, and we do.”


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