NEW PHILADELPHIA - The Tusky Central Catholic softball team plated three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and held on for dear life in a 4-3 victory against Steubenville Catholic Central in an Ohio Division IV district semifinal on their home diamond.
TCC returns home Thursday for the district final against the winner of today's contest between nemesis Strasburg and River.
"I'm still shaking," TCC coach Becky Henry said with a smile. "What a great game. I knew they (the Crusaders) were not going to quit until the final out. They made us earn everything.
"They are a very good team - well coached and play great defense."
Steubenville Catholic coach Jim DiCarlo said there was one big factor.
"No. 1, I thought they were the best defensive team we played all year," he said. "They are excellent. Their outfielders are tremendous. They have good arms and good speed.
"The third baseman has a gun. The catcher is going on a full-ride to Akron and she keeps you at bay.
"They're also a really good offensive team. They have four lefties and they can hit for power and they can run like deer. They're a real complete team.
"Bottom line, I could have done a better job coaching."
The Saints scored the first run when leadoff hitter Sidney Anderson ripped a shot over the left fielder, who was playing in to take away a possible slap single, and slid head-first into home for an inside-the-park homer and a 1-0 lead.
"What a great way to start the game," Henry said.
It was all defense and pitching from there, until the bottom of the fifth.
No. 9 hitter, Anna Thompson doubled with one out and Anderson rifled a shot off the first baseman's glove and it rolled down the right-field line. Anderson slid safely into third for an RBI.
One out later, DiCarlo ordered the intentional walk of catcher Gabby Fredericks to get to third baseman Maggie Domenic.
She promptly ripped a double to the fence in left to score a pair for a 4-0 cushion.
"I went with the percentages there," DiCarlo said. "The third baseman hadn't hurt us and, in the game I saw, she hadn't hit very well, either. She got ahold of one. I really don't second-guess the intentional walk."
It's not like the Crusaders didn't have their fair share of opportunities. In fact, Central outhit the hosts, 10-6.
"I think the key was we didn't get the leadoff runners on base," DiCarlo said.
Central got the leadoff runner on base once in seven chances.
With one out in the third, Micca Mirabella walked and DiCarlo used a hit-and-run with Fran Capaldi. She singled to right and the right fielder made a play on Mirabella going to third. She was called safe on a bang-bang play, but Domenic came up throwing and got Capaldi out trying to go to second.
Mirabella was left at third.
Bertoia singled with one out in the fifth. One out later, Capaldi reached on a walk and Maddy Gulan came up and ripped a shot to left, right at Thompson for the third out.
"Six feet either way and we score there," DiCarlo said.
"I hit it hard," Gulan said, "but it was right at her."
Ashlynne Daley began the sixth with a single and Gabby Capaldi doubled to left to put runners on second and third. Megan Lloyd's infield single one out later loaded the bases.
But, TCC pitcher Drew Abbas exited the inning unscathed thanks to a strikeout and groundout.
Central, though, wasn't dead.
Gulan ripped a two-out single in the top of the seventh. Daley walked and Gabby Capaldi laced a shot to the fence in left, scoring Gulan. Alex McComb then ripped a single to score two.
Megan Lloyd's blooper looked like it was going to fall just beyond Dominec, but she reached up and made the play to end the game.
"She made a great play," Mirabella said. "A nice way to end the game for them. They're a really nice defensive team."