One of the most commonly uttered cliches in softball states that good pitching and strong defense trump all when it comes to winning in the postseason. This could not have been more apparent than it was in top-seeded East Rockaway’s sweep of No. 2 Oyster Bay in the best-of-three Nassau County Class B softball championship series.
Backed by remarkable pitching from Emily Chelius and a pair of perfectly executed 8-6-5 putouts to end the fifth and sixth innings, the Lady Rocks beat the Baymen, 1-0, last Friday afternoon at Bill Edwards Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University to advance to the Long Island championship game for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.
Junior shortstop Hunter Vertuccio’s one-out bomb in the top of the third inning, which easily cleared the left field fence just inside the foul pole, was the only run the Lady Rocks would need. East Rockaway will be looking for its fourth consecutive Long Island title and eighth overall when it meets Center Moriches on Thursday afternoon at 4:00 at the Eastport Athletic Complex in Manorville.
“We weren’t hitting the ball like we expected to, so I knew I needed to do something when I came up,” Vertuccio said. “I knew it was gone when I hit it.”
A day after being no-hit by Chelius in a 10-0 defeat, Oyster Bay came to play in game two. In back-to-back innings, the Baymen had players smoke balls deep to center, but on each occasion center fielder Leanne Wright hit the cutoff, and Vertuccio twice threw strikes to Giana Mancusi to nail the runners at third base.
“We practice relays and cutoffs all the time, but it doesn’t always work out,” Chelius said. “Today, we did everything right and got the runners out.”
Chelius, who many believe is the county’s top pitcher, tossed her first career no-hitter in the series opener, striking out 12 while allowing just one batter to reach base via a walk in the top of the sixth inning. She pitched to the minimum, as the runner was cut down trying to steal second.
“My ball was moving a lot more in the opening game than it was today, and I felt like I had all my pitches going,” Chelius said. “Playoffs are the most exciting time of the season. I didn’t think about possibly throwing a no-hitter until we had two outs in the seventh inning. In the past, when I thought about it during the game I gave up a hit.”
Najeri Felton had a big day for the Rocks in the opener, going 3-for-4 with three RBI and a pair of runs scored. Mimi Bilardello, Adriana Ramiriz, Riley O’Hagan, and Siobhan Perini each had a pair of hits.
Chelius has been pitching superbly of late. Over her past five starts, the senior right hander has yielded just one earned run in 33 innings while striking out 51. Her earned run average in the postseason is a paltry 0.26.