Emily Chelius asked her coach if she could come to the gym and work on her pitches. That was in December . . . during boys basketball practice.
“I told my players, ‘We can’t use that basket. Come down here,’ ” said Joe Lores, who coaches the East Rockaway boys basketball and softball teams. “Then I’d use her as an example. I’d say to my basketball guys, ‘You see? This is how greatness happens. It happens when nobody’s looking.’ ”
Chelius continued to do great things Saturday. The freshman pitched a gem, drove in all three runs and even made a diving catch in the final inning to help the Rocks defeat North Salem, 3-1, in the Southeast Regional Class C final at Hofstra.
East Rockaway advanced to the state semifinals in Glens Falls, where Chelius and her teammates will look to win what Lores said would be the first state title in the history of the school’s athletic program.
“You don’t get this chance every day,” Chelius said. “So we gotta go for it.”
Chelius went 3-for-3, including a bases-loaded single that drove in Erica Acampora and Caitlin O’Mara in the bottom of the third inning to give East Rockaway a 2-0 lead.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the fifth, Chelius induced a pop-up to Diana Locoteta at second to preserve the two-run lead.
“We have the same lineup from last year, one to nine, and everyone contributes,” Locoteta said. “This is something special. Such a small school going upstate with the potential to win is amazing.”
Acampora walked to lead off the fifth, stole second and scored on a single by Chelius to increase the lead to 3-0.
North Salem (11-7) had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh when Chelius charged off the mound and made a diving grab on a pop-up to help seal the victory.
Chelius allowed five hits, walked one and struck out nine in a complete game. She continued to prove that those offseason workouts in the gym, where she worked on the spin and speed of her pitches with her dad while the basketball team practiced at the opposite end of the court, have paid off.
“They definitely did,” she said with a laugh.
East Rockaway (14-8) will play Caledonia-Mumford in the state Class C semifinals at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Moreau Park.
“I want to go out with a bang and just kill it at states,” said Acampora, a senior. “We want to keep East Rockaway’s name alive and leave the school with something special to remember.”