Emily Chelius established her presence almost instantly.
The East Rockaway softball pitcher made a resounding statement in the top of the first inning of the Long Island Class C championship on Thursday, swiftly striking out the side.
Chelius struck out 11 in a three-hit shutout, as the Rocks clinched their second consecutive Long Island Class C championship with a 5-0 victory over Southold/Greenport.
“When you’ve got a pitcher of her caliber — I’ve been fortunate to have a few over the years — this is their time,” East Rockaway coach Joe Lores said.
East Rockaway (8-12) will play in the Southeast Regional finals against Pine Plains at Rhinebeck High School at 2 p.m. Saturday for a chance to go to the state championships.
“I think this is pretty big,” Chelius said. “Honestly, coming from a small school, everyone gets excited.”
Lia Gladstone went 3-for-3 with two doubles and an RBI. She opened the scoring by driving in Michelle Sheridan with a two-out double in the first.
“This was great,” Gladstone said.
Chelius allowed her first baserunner of the game on a walk in the third. First baseman Sarah Donnelly’s headfirst diving catch with a runner on third base ended the inning.
“I was working the inside pitches a lot,” said Chelius, who did not surrender a hit until Grace Syron’s double in the fifth.
East Rockaway tacked on two runs in the third to take a 3-0 lead. Jessica Loyer dunked a single into center for an RBI and a double-play groundout later in the frame plated an additional run.
Chelius later laced a two-run double to the wall in the fifth to break the game open.
“I definitely wanted to drive that ball,” Chelius said.
Southold (12-6), under first-year coach Skip Gehring, experienced a noteworthy improvement this season after finishing 8-12 in 2016. The Settlers won their first Suffolk C title since 1989.
“The girls worked very hard this year. I think they’ve started something here at Southold,” Gehring said. They’re already talking about next season.”
Lores also praised Southold’s resurgence.
“This was a very good team,” Lores said. “They’re very talented and will be back.”
Despite East Rockaway’s losing record, Lores understands timing is everything.
“We looked at our league play as preparation for the playoffs. The season really, really counts in May and June.”
Especially for a pitcher like Chelius.
“Last year’s experience was good, but I wanted to be more of a leader this season.”