NEW PHILADELPHIA - For the first time since 2007, St. John Central has won a Division IV Eastern District semifinal softball tournament game.
The Irish (25-3) got only one hit Monday, but still blanked Tuscarawas Catholic Central, on the Saints' home field, 2-0.
The Irish advance to Thursday's district championship contest against the winner of today's Shadyside-Strasburg game. Both games will be played back in New Philadelphia with 5 p.m. first pitches slated.
"I can't remember the last time that we won a district tournament game," veteran St. John Central coach Jerry Magistro said. "I always get asked that, but I know one thing, my two seniors have never won a game here.
"I'm happy for these girls," Magistro added. "They don't want it to end, so they played their tails off."
St. John Central used a bases-loaded walk and a fielder's choice in scoring its two runs.
Locked in a scoreless duel after 3 innings, the Belmont County nine finally took advantage of TCC pitcher Drew Abbas' wildness.
Caitlin Sliva opened the bottom of the fourth by reaching on an error. She was erased on a fielder's choice, but Kristen Russell and Amber LaMotte drew back-to-back base-on-balls to load the bases. A fielder's choice off the bat of Cheyenne Harris left the bases still juiced, and Kyleigh Falcone watched a 3-2 pitch just miss the plate to force in Russell for a 1-0 lead.
An inning later, winning pitcher Hannah Absalom kept the Irish from being no-hit when she blasted a double over the centerfielder's head.
A Morgan DeLuca groundout advanced Absalom to third. Sliva then walked before Sydney Helms' roller to second forced out Sliva as Absalom raced home with the all-important second run.
Fortunately for the Irish, they wouldn't need it as Absalom slammed the door. The strong-armed junior allowed three harmless singles, struck out a half-a-dozen, walked two and hit one.
Only one TCC runner would reach third base, that being Sami Beamer in the third with one out. However, Absalom got a flyball to Falcone in left and struck out the next batter to end that threat.
The Saints rallied again in the sixth when left-handed hitting Gabby Fredericks slapped a leadoff single to left. Abbas ripped a full-count offering from Absalom down the third base line, but right into the glove of the well-positioned Sliva. Laura Fredericks forced her sister at second with an infield grounder and Jenna Tolloti singled to center to keep the frame going. But once again, Absalom rose to the occasion and caught Rachel Keitz looking at strike three.
Absalom ended the game in style by retiring the Saints 1-2-3 in the seventh, the final two outs being infield popups caught, fittingly, by seniors Kaydie Coppa and Russell.
"What it took today was teamwork," Magistro said. "We got good pitching from Hannah like we always do; we had good fielding (only one error); and we were patient at the plate. We knew from scouting them that their pitcher struggled with her control at times.
"We may of only had one hit, but they only had one here, one here and one here," he continued. "It takes everything to be successful, not just pitching."
Falcone, the Irish's No. 9 hitter, was a thorn in the Saints' side all game. She drew three of the seven walks issued by Abbas and had an RBI.
"Kyleigh did a good job of being patient," Magistro said. "She did a good job ."
LaMotte also turned in a web gem when she shoestringed a line drive to center by Keitz in the third when a runner on and one out.