Nina Vandernoth was locked in from the first pitch.
Facing elimination, the seventh-grader pitched a shutout, striking out six while allowing four hits and three walks to lead No. 1 North Babylon to a 1-0 win over host and sixth-seeded Smithtown East in the final round of the Suffolk Class AA double-elimination softball playoffs Monday.
It was Smithtown East’s first loss of the postseason, so the two teams will play once more at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at North Babylon to decide the Suffolk AA champion.
“She was in the zone. You couldn’t even talk to her during the game,” North Babylon coach John Egan said of Vandernoth. “She’s more of a senior than a seventh-grader. She plays big.”
Vandernoth also played a big role in bringing the only run of the game across the plate.
After a one-out single by Kayla Denino in the fifth inning, Vandernoth laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Denino into scoring position. Up came North Babylon’s leadoff hitter Megan Wegel.
“Megan is a great player and I knew she was going to get the job done,” Vandernoth said. “Setting that runner up on second made me feel more confident that we were going to get that run in.”
Wegel fell behind to 2-2 in the count, but lined a single up the middle to score Denino from second.
“The pitch right before the single was right down the middle and I took it,” said Wegel, a junior. “I knew I had to make contact with the next pitch no matter where it was. Luckily, I put a good swing on it.”
After a leadoff single by Giovanna Lombardi in the bottom of the fifth, Vandernoth buckled down and kept the Bulls off the board. In the sixth, Vandernoth retired the heart of Smithtown East’s lineup in order.
“It gave me a little bit of a boost,” Vandernoth said. “I felt more confident going into the circle with a lead, even if it was just one run.”
Gabby Amicizia allowed just the one run in seven innings and despite only striking out two, the Smithtown East (17-7) defense committed no errors.
After dropping its first playoff game to No. 9 Riverhead, North Babylon (24-3) has won six straight elimination games to have a shot at a county title on Wednesday.
“I’m so ready for Wednesday,” Wegel said. “We have a good relationship with Smithtown East and we know it’s always going to be a great game when we play them.”