By Mitch Abramson
Through six innings Tuesday, Clarke had thoroughly confused the Terriers by tossing pitches so slow, that St. Francis Prep coach Ann Marie Rich complained afterward that she should have set the pitching machine to 25 mph instead of its customary 50 during practice.The only player who had a beat on Clarke's style was senior Tiffany Caban, the Terriers' quietly intense shortstop, who doubled in the second inning and appeared comfortable batting against Clarke. That self-control would come in handy in the bottom of the seventh with St. Francis Prep trailing 2-1 with two outs in the quarterfinals of the Brooklyn-Queens CHSAA 'A' playoffs.With runners on first and second, Caban smashed an 0-2 pitch deep to right field to drive in the winning runs for a theatrical 3-2 win at Cunningham Park.The second-seeded Terriers (19-7, 12-4) advanced to the semis where they will face fourth seeded Stella Maris (7-9), which upset top-seeded and previously undefeated Bishop Kearney Tuesday. The game will be played at Cunningham Park Thursday at 3:45 p.m. Top-seeded Mary Louis (22-0) hosts No. 3 Molloy (11-9) in the other semifinal.For Caban, the key to interpreting Clarke's style was to be patient and trust her technique.”I felt more relaxed in that situation than I should have,” Caban said. “My teammates got into trouble swinging at the high pitches, but when the ball is coming in that slow, it's all about using your mechanics and staying focused.”Caban didn't think the shot was far enough when she first made contact, but when she rounded second base, she saw center fielder Bonnie DeFina touch home, and she made a beeline with her arms raised in triumph to celebrate with her teammates.”I wasn't surprised that we came back like we did,” said pitcher Nina Cesare, who tossed a complete-game 6-hitter. “We've come back like this before. But I was still amazed that we were trailing going into the seventh.”St. Francis Prep expected to kick up their heels and put on a slick hitting display against Bishop Ford (12-6, 9-6), which started all freshmen, with the exception of Clarke and went winless a year ago.What the Terriers got was heavy doses of Clarke's frustrating whiffle balls. Prep totaled just two extra-base hits against her through six innings until pinch-hitter Nicole BiFulco blasted a triple to deep right after fouling off four pitches in the seventh. That sent the Falcons infield to the mound to confer with Clarke who was hobbling after she had sprained her right ankle hurrying to cover home on the triple. One batter later, DeFina walked, and Caban, who was brought home in the third inning by second baseman Nicole Epstein for a 1-0 lead, drove them both in for the game-winners.”I never thought the game was over when we were ahead,” said Bishop Ford first-year coach Eileen Daly-Egan. “We hung in there, but the whole time you're waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm so proud of this group. We have basically all freshmen on this team. We have three more years to look forward to.”Bishop Ford, Rich's alma mater, tied the game in the top of the sixth when Cesare began to unravel slightly. She gave up a double to the first batter she faced and watched second basemen Janie Wade blast a double to right field that went through the legs of Alexis Namit, allowing the runner to score with one out. She gave up another run on an RBI-double before striking out the final two batters to trail 2-1.”My location was off today,” said Cesare, who received a scholarship from New York Tech to play softball. “I was missing my spots, but this team plays to the end. We never gave up.”After the game home plate umpire John Morand, in his final appearance as an official, gave the St. Francis Prep players roses. He has been umpiring since Rich began coaching at St. Francis Prep in 1987. Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by E-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 130.