Softball: Hills West pitcher Casalino blanks Riverhead

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead second baseman Sara Tucci gets the force out against Danica Vasa in the seventh inning Tuesday.


Hills West sophomore Francesca Casalino isn’t the type of pitcher to overpower a team over seven innings. But she can undoubtedly overwhelm.

Casalino rode a devastating rise ball to shut down Riverhead in a 3-0 victory for the league-leading Colts on a chilly afternoon Tuesday at Riverhead High School. She gave up four hits while striking out nine with two walks for her second consecutive shutout.

“She’s the best pitcher in the league,” said Riverhead coach Bob Fox. “She’s probably the best pitcher I think in leagues three and four.”

Casalino, who struck out 17 in a win over Smithtown East April 20, doesn’t always rely on speed, but she showed some off when necessary.

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Amanda Graziano took the loss for the Blue Waves.

When the Blue Waves had runners at the corners in the fourth inning with two out and trailing by a run, Casalino faced Riverhead pitcher Amanda Graziano. On a 2-2 pitch, Casalino rocketed a fastball past Graziano to end the inning. It was the hardest pitch she threw all game, noticeably faster than her average pitch.

“If she has to rear back and fire, she can let it loose,” said Hills West coach Rob Rizzo. “But her big pitch is definitely with her curve and drop.”

The Blue Waves knew they’d be in for a tough afternoon having already faced Casalino at the beginning of the season. In that game she struck out 12 in a 3-2 Hills West victory. Both the runs were unearned.

Fox said they tried to keep a simple approach to the plate against Casalino: “See the ball and hit the ball.”

“That’s the only approach you can have,” he said. “You got to recognize the rise ball.”

Casalino threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 27 batters she faced. Falling behind in the count made it that much more difficult to lay off the rise ball, which often ended up out of the strike zone.

“You keep swinging at the rise ball, she’s going to keep throwing it,” Fox said.

The Colts improved to 13-2 in League IV and are eying a top-four seed in the Class AA playoffs.

“Everyone’s chasing Brentwood and Longwood right now,” Rizzo said.

For the Blue Waves, their goal is simply to squeak out enough victories to get into the dance. With four games remaining, the Blue Waves (7-8 League IV, 8-8 overall) need three victories to finish a game above .500 and earn a spot in the postseason.

Last year the Blue Waves just missed out with a 9-10 record.

“We don’t want to wind up 9-10 this year,” Fox said. “We want at least 10-9.”

The Blue Waves get right back at it against 5-10 West Babylon Wednesday on the road. They then close out the season with games against North Babylon (3-11), Hauppauge (11-3) and Copiague (0-15).

“We definitely can do it,” Fox said.

The Blue Waves played the Colts tight Tuesday. But Hills West struck for a run in the fourth inning then two more in the fifth for all the offense Casalino needed.

Casalino helped her cause with an RBI single for the Colts’ second run in the fifth inning. Jessica Kleet followed with a single up the middle to make it 3-0.

Riverhead second baseman Sara Tucci reached base twice. She walked in the first and singled in the third. First baseman Stephanie Falisi singled up the middle in the fourth and advanced to second as the ball scooted past the center fielder. Shortstop Alex McKillop walked on four pitches the next at-bat to give the Blue Waves their best scoring opportunity.

But Casalino came back to get a fielder’s choice and strikeout to end the threat.

Left fielder Sarah Freeborn had the lone extra base hit when she doubled to left-center in the seventh.

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