They found a way so many times before, so when Fairfield's Little League softball team loaded the bases, down to its last out, sure, its manager had some optimism in the back of his mind.

"You wonder," Jarry Rasmussen said. "You just hope."

Just like the rest of Thursday afternoon, though, Jenny Hickey had something extra.

The pitcher for New Hyde Park, N.Y., got her seventh strikeout to end the Eastern Regional semifinal, a 6-0 New Hyde Park win at Breen Field.

Three first-inning runs gave Hickey more breathing room than she'd ever need, ending Fairfield's run.

"It's just fun. That's what it was," Rasmussen said, his usual geniality giving way to quiet and strong emotion for a few seconds, the pride evident. "Not only on the field, but off the field, too. They conducted themselves so well. We got a lot of compliments. Some of them, it was their first time away from some, overnight."

Brittany Romero, -- Fairfield's ace pitcher, prohibited from throwing Thursday because she went the distance in Wednesday's quarterfinal -- Mary Rose Finnigan and Anna Rasmussen played for last year's Fairfield team, which fell behind New City, N.Y., 9-0 in last year's regional final before scoring five in the bottom of the sixth.

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When Finnigan reached on a dropped popup to lead off the bottom of the sixth Thursday, it could've started another rally. Anna Rasmussen roped a 2-1 pitch hard right at the left fielder, at least the third ball that could've gone either way for Fairfield.

"We hit it hard right at them a couple of times," Jarry Rasmussen said.

Still, he said, "6-0 is 6-0, no matter how you look at it."

After a strikeout, Michaela O'Donnell walked and Shannon McCartney singled to load the bases, but Hickey finished up a four-hitter.

"I tried to mix up the changeup, get them off-balance," Hickey said. "I wasn't really nervous. My catcher, Ann Grimshaw, kept me cool."

Added third baseman Maggie Donnelly, "we've been in pressure situations before. I guess you get used to it. We always try to stay calm."

New Hyde Park will face Robbinsville, N.J., in Friday night's regional final for a spot in the Little League World Series in Portland, Ore.

Not a lot went right for Fairfield in the top of the first. Kayla Fitzpatrick led off with a five-pitch walk off Maddie Russell, then went to second on a pitch in the dirt. After Hickey fouled off three pitches, a wild pitch/throwing error brought Fitzpatrick in.

Hickey's walk, a one-out single and a stolen base put runners on second and third. Russell got Donnelly to fly to center. Hickey, not tagging up, was retreating to third when O'Donnell's throw toward home skipped between third base and the plate, allowing Hickey to score.

Gabby Morales then belted a double to left-center to make it 3-0.

"Give them all the credit," Jarry Rasmussen said. "We made a few mistakes. You could see some jitters in the first inning."

After Finnigan walked and Anna Rasmussen doubled with one out in the bottom of the first, Hickey struck out the next two to get out of it. She allowed only one other hit until the fifth.

The Long Islanders tacked on a run in three different innings after that, twice capitalizing with help from a leadoff walk.

Still, Fairfield scrapped to the end.

"We didn't have a lot of room for error, no doubt about that," Jarry Rasmussen said. "They believed. They worked so hard. We just kind of caught a wave and let it run here."

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; twitter.com/fornabaioctp

NEW YORK..301 011--6 6 1

FAIRFIELD.. 000 000--0 4 2

Records: New Hyde Park 5-1; Fairfield 4-2

Batteries: NHP--Jenny Hickey (W, 3-0) and Ann Grimshaw; F--Maddie Russell (L, 0-1) and Anna Rasmussen