East Islip entered Saturday's Suffolk AA semifinal game winless in six softball playoff games all-time against Bay Shore, which was the top-seeded team, undefeated, and two-time defending county champ.
But the fourth-seeded Redmen had mini-rallies in the first and fifth innings and gritty performances from their pitcher and catcher to bring down the Marauders, 4-3, at Bay Shore's Jim McGowan Field and advance to their first Suffolk championship series since 2003.
"This is a tremendous win for the program," said East Islip coach Jason McGowan, son of former Bay Shore coach Jim McGowan and a former Bay Shore assistant himself. "It's not easy beating Bay Shore on their home field in the playoffs, as I know more than anybody."
"To come up short today with our seniors and our fans, it hurts a lot," Bay Shore shortstop Giana Panariello said. "But you can't say we didn't go down trying. We went down against one of the best teams in the county. We didn't beat ourselves; they beat us."
The game came down to a clutch defensive play with East Islip (19-4) leading 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh. Bay Shore (20-1) had the heart of its order due up and put runners on second and third with one out for Sarah Edwards, who was 2-for-3 to that point.
Edwards grounded a ball to shortstop Lindsey Zenk, who alertly fired the ball home to stop Bay Shore's Division I-bound junior catcher Courtney Syrett (Ole Miss) from scoring the tying run from third.
Zenk's throw barely beat Syrett as East Islip's catcher Alexa Martone blocked the plate and held on to the ball as Syrett barreled her over for the second out of the inning. East Islip pitcher Courtney Blake hit the next batter to load the bases, but struck out Rhiana Paoletti on three pitches to end it.
"That hurt," Martone, a freshman, said of the collision at home plate. "I was scared but I knew my ability to catch it."
Blake allowed just one earned run and six hits with three strikeouts, as the Redmen's five errors did not help her cause. Blake, though, was confident, even during the seventh-inning jam that could have cost her the game.
"I knew to get out of that, I'd have to throw ground balls, pop-ups, and strike people out and I knew I had my team behind me," Blake said. "And then striking the last girl out was just an amazing feeling."
East Islip opened the scoring in the first off Bay Shore starter Michelle DeVito with an RBI single by Blake, who on the same play scored on a two-base error by Syrett. Bay Shore then scored a run in each of the first three innings to take a 3-2 lead, but the Redmen answered with two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Blake and Kelsey Fileccia.
Fileccia's hit broke a tie at 3, and came with two outs and the bases loaded.
East Islip will make its fifth Suffolk championship appearance and seek its first title against No. 2 Longwood with Game 1 of the best-of-three series at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Longwood.