Longwood softball coach Alicia Smith decided to "shake things up a little bit," which meant handing Noel Lent the ball in a win-or-go-home game.
Lent had started two games all season and saw one inning of action in Tuesday's 12-4 Game 1 loss to East Islip in the best-of-three Suffolk Class AA championship series.
Lent rewarded Smith Thursday with a five-hitter as the No. 2 Lions defeated No. 4 East Islip, 6-3. The deciding Game 3 will be played at Longwood Friday at 2 p.m., with both teams looking to win their first county title.
"She really wanted it, and sometimes when you look in a player's eyes and you see that they want the ball, you have to know when to give it to them," Smith said.
Lent was the beneficiary of a four-run first inning, which saw the Redmen commit an error and misplay two balls in the outfield. "It made me feel so much more relaxed on the mound," Lent said.
By the sixth, East Islip (20-5) appeared to be wearing down Lent, trailing 4-3 with the tying run on third. On an attempted suicide squeeze, the batter pulled back the bunt, leaving the runner hung up between third and home.
With Longwood third baseman Alyssa Corona charging down the line, shortstop Lindsey Zenk covered third and received a perfect throw from catcher Alex Russo to nail the runner.
"We practiced that play every single play in practice," Lent said. "We knew what we were doing."
The Lions (21-2) padded the lead in the seventh, courtesy of some instinctual baserunning. Audrey Miller's sacrifice fly with runners on second and third brought home Nicole Gazzola, but the throw bounced past EI catcher Alexa Martone.
And with Martone retrieving the ball, Leah Mele came charging down the line. Mele's hard slide beat Martone's tag to give Longwood a 6-3 cushion.
"I was kind of pumped up for this game," Mele said.
With the series now tied, Smith is faced with a dilemma: Who to start in Game 3?
Lent did not hesitate when asked if she wanted the ball again. "I hope so. I'm ready."