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HHH West's Francesca Casalino and East Meadow's Kerri Shapiro are familiar rivals

Kerri Shapiro of East Meadow, left, and Francesca

Kerri Shapiro of East Meadow, left, and Francesca Casalino of Half Hollow Hills West pose for a portrait during the Newsday varsity softball season preview photo shoot at company headquarters on March 17, 2014. Credit: James Escher / James Escher

Half Hollow Hills West's Francesca Casalino and East Meadow's Kerri Shapiro recently stood face to face while posing at a photo shoot. It was fitting, considering they have been facing each other for years.

The two softball pitchers first squared off against one another while playing 14 and under travel ball.

"It was always the championship game between us and them," Casalino said. "We'd always give each other a nod, like, 'We're here again.' ''

And now, here they are.

Entering their final season, the seniors have emerged as two of the premier pitchers on Long Island.

Casalino, bound for Yale, went 16-5, led Suffolk in strikeouts with 240 and had a 0.75 ERA last season.

"I remember saying I'm definitely going to be seeing her in high school," Shapiro said. "Her spins are really good and she's really composed in the circle. I knew she would be a force to be reckoned with."

Shapiro, who is headed to Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., was 17-5 -- including 12 shutouts, seven one-hitters and one no-hitter -- with an ERA of 1.39 and 214 strikeouts last season. She helped the Jets win the Long Island Class AA title and brought them within one victory of a state championship.

"She has spin and speed," Casalino said. "Since she has both, and she's a very smart pitcher, she is able to keep people off balance."

Both are just as dangerous at the plate as they are at the circle.

Casalino is a line drive, power hitter. Last year she batted .516 with three homers and 27 RBIs.

"She is the whole package," Half Hollow Hills West coach Bill Mitaritonna said. "I've never met a person more dedicated to athletics and academics."

Last year, Shapiro batted .514 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs.

She throws up to 62 mph, and her plethora of pitches include a curveball, screwball, change-up, riser and drop.

"She's certainly one of the best, I'll tell you that," East Meadow coach Stew Fritz said. "She throws with a lot of speed and I think her command sets her apart."

For Shapiro, her concentration in the offseason wasn't on mechanics, but more on personal development.

"I've been trying to focus on building a relationship with the girls on my team," Shapiro said. "I honestly don't know what I would do without my team."

During the offseason, Casalino found particular ways to improve her game.

"I've been doing agility and strengthening programs," Casalino said. "It's helped with my speed and fine-tuning all of my spins."

This year, Shapiro and Casalino will be two of the most feared pitchers, just as they were when facing each other as 13-year-olds.

"We had so much respect for each other back then," Casalino said, "and we still do."

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