WHEELING - Prior to the 2012 softball season, Buckeye Local hadn't won an OVAC title since 1999.
Well, the Panthers are celebrating back-to-back championships after their gut-check, 4-3, nod against Buckeye 8 rival Harrison Central in the Class 3A title tilt Saturday afternoon on Lisa's Field.
"We've faced a lot of adversity this season, but these girls have battled through it as a team," Buckeye Local coach Joe Soos said. "When Ivy (Starcher) came back, we've gotten good play out of all of them for the last six or seven days now. Who knows what is going to happen?
"You just have to get it going at the right time. I like where we are right now."
Leading 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth, the fourth-seeded Panthers (10-9), who didn't even qualify for the playoffs until the final day, watched as the second-seeded Huskies (13-5) rallied to draw even when pinch runner Paige Richards raced home on a wild pitch with two outs.
Instead of hanging its heads and getting down, Buckeye Local rallied back to score the game-winner in the top of the seventh. With one out, senior Aliyah Marelli, who was celebrating her birthday, doubled to left-center as Paige Dunlap failed to come up with the ball after a valiant diving effort. Karlee Leonard followed with a double down the left-field line that easily scored Marelli.
The first two Harrison Central batters in the bottom of the seventh watched as the count went to 3-0, but Ivy Starcher fought back to retire both on strikes - the first swinging and the second looking. She then induced a comebacker to seal the deal.
"This is her first complete game in three weeks," Soos said of his ace. "She's had a pulled muscle in her back. She plays angry. She gets the eye of the tiger and she's tough."
Harrison Central took an early 2-0 lead as Katie Ellzy blasted a run-scoring triple to deep right-center with two outs in the first inning. Dunlap, who had walked leading off, raced home on the hit. Ellzy scored when Starcher was called for an illegal pitch.
The Huskies didn't dent home plate again until Richards scored in the sixth.
During that stretch, Starcher, who struck out 10, had set down 14 straight Harrison Central hitters.
Trailing 2-0, Buckeye Local cut the deficit in half in the second when Amy Balk's sacrifice fly to left plated Lauren Swiger, who had walked.
The Panthers took the lead in the fifth as Marelli launched an 0-2 pitch for an RBI triple to the fence in right-center to make it 2-2. With the count 1-1 on Leonard, Ellzy uncorked a wild pitch that Marelli scored on for a 3-2 edge.
"Buckeye has been playing well of late, and they played well (Saturday)," Harrison Central coach Donnie Bethel said. "They gave us a few of the runs that we got, so we can't complain about anything.
Marelli finished a home run shy of the cycle as the Panthers managed eight hits.
Jessica Custer had a pair of singles and a run batted in for Harrison Central.