ST. CLAIRSVILLE - It's been so long since the host St. Clairsville Red Devils had been to the district softball tournament that no one on hand Thursday afternoon could even remember their last appearance.
They'll have little trouble in remembering it now.
Using timely hitting, solid defense and pitching, the upstart Red Devils advanced to the Division III Eastern District championship game by virtue of a 3-1 victory against top-seeded Harrison Central at the St. C. Junior Sports Complex.
"We knew coming into the game that it's been a while (since St. Clairsville played in the district)," coach Rachel Duncan said. "It was time, and we brought it today."
The Red Devils will next face Steubenville Catholic, which dispatched Martins Ferry in the nightcap, 6-5. The district final will be played on Wednesday at 5 p.m. with that winner headed to the regional tournament in Lancaster the following week.
"(Advancing) is the best feeling in the world right now," Duncan said. "This is something we've been striving toward since I started here, so it feels good to accomplish it, but we're not done."
While the Red Devils (12-11) are returning to the practice field today, the Huskies finished their season with a 17-9 record, which ties the school record for victories.
"St. Clairsville has been playing well, and they played very well today," Huskies' coach Donnie Bethel said. "I thought we played hard and well ourselves, but they hit the ball in clutch situations, and we didn't."
The game was tied at one heading into the sixth. St. C. struck for its only run to that point in the top of the second on a RBI triple by Summer Gallentine.
Harrison Central, however, answered in its half of that frame when Paige Dunlap was plunked, forcing in Jess Custer.
After that it was all St. C.'s Michaela Miller and Harrison's Katie Ellzy in the circle.
In the sixth, however, Miller helped her own cause when she led off the inning with a base hit.
She wasn't out there long. Hard-hitting shortstop Lauren Figura took the first pitch she saw from Ellzy and launched it into the right-center gap.
"Figura had a really nice hit on a pitch that was a mistake," Bethel said. "St. Clairsville made us pay. I thought they swung the bats extremely well. No question about it, St. Clairsville played a good all-around game."
The relay throw back to the infield skipped away from a Huskies' fielder, and Figura was able to race home with the third run.
"Offensively, we did what it took to get it done against a good pitcher and against a good team," Duncan said. "Our goal every game is to work ahead and not from behind. Lauren's hit was big and much-needed, but we got a good performance from everyone (Thursday)."
Figura also helped the Red Devils by flashing the leather in the field when she laid out for a diving catch on a looper in shallow left.
"I didn't think I would score on it, but I am glad it happened and definitely glad that we were able to win this game," Figura said. "It's just an amazing feeling to be moving on."
Those two runs were plenty for Miller, who sat down the Huskies in order in the sixth and outside of hitting a batter in the seventh, she got through the inning with ease, earning the complete-game victory.
"Michaela was strong and confident the whole game," Duncan said.
Miller fanned only three. She walked two, hit two and worked out a few jams along the way.
Ellzy, the tough-luck losing pitcher, struck out five and walked two.
Mackenzie Otto had a solid two-hit performance for St. C.