NEW PHILADELPHIA - It appeared to come down to timely hits.
"We got some good ones at the right time," said Tusky Central Catholic softball coach Becky Henry.
The Saints plated three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and held on for dear life in a 4-3 victory over Steubenville Catholic Central in a Division IV district semifinal on their home diamond.
TCC returns home on Thursday for the district final against the winner of today's contest between nemesis Strasburg and Hannibal River.
"I'm still shaking," 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."
Tusky Central Catholic 4,
Steubenville Catholic Central 3
SCC 000 000 3 - 3 10 1
TCC 100 030 x - 4 6 0
SCC: McComb (LP, 2K, 1W) and Daley; F. Capaldi S; Gulan D, S; Daley S; G. Capaldi 2D, RBI; McComb 2S, 2RBI; Lloyd S; Bertoia S.
TCC: Abbas (WP, 2K, 3W) and Fredericks; Anderson HR, S, T, 2RBI; Dominec D, 2RBI; Abbas S; Thompson D.
Steubenville Catholic Central head coach Jim DiCarlo agreed with the timely hits, but also said there was one other 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 deers. 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 Anderson slid head-first into home for an inside-the-parker and a 1-0 lead.
"What a great way to start the game," said Henry.
"Credit to her," said Central left fielder Madeline Gulan. "She made a smart play."
It was all defense and pitching from there, until the bottom of the fifth.
No. 9 hitter, Anna Thompson doubled with one out.
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 and the 4-0 cushion.
"I went with the percentages there," DiCarlo admitted. "The third baseman hadn't hurt us and, in the game I saw, she hadn't hit very well, either. She get ahold of one. I really don't second-guess the intentional walk."
"We stayed positive as a team," said Central shortstop Micca Mirabella. "There are no doubts with this team. We stay positive."
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," said DiCarlo.
Central got the leadoff runner on base once in seven chances.
With one out in the third, Mirabella walked. DiCarlo had a hit-and-run with Fran Capaldi. She singled to right and the right fielder made a play on Mirabella going go 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 Gulan came up and ripped a shot to left, right at Thompson for the third out.
"Six feet with way and we score there," said DiCarlo.
"I hit it hard," said Gulan, "but it was right at her."
Ashlynne Daley began the sixth with a single. 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," said Mirabella. "A nice way to end the game for them. They're a really nice defensive team."
Both seniors agreed there was no doubt of a comeback win.
"We expect to win," said Mirabella. "We expected to come back today and win. We will fight until the last out and we did that today."
"We've been down before and fought to come back," she said. "I expected nothing less out of us today. And, we made it interesting. I never thought about losing until the final out."
"They hit the ball hard and we hit the ball hard," said Mirabella. "Theirs found gaps."
It was the final game in a Central uniform for Gulan and Mirabella.
"I'm just really proud of our team," said Gulan, who is off to play softball at Fairmont State. "I couldn't ask anything more of them. I am thankful I was able to put this uniform on for four years."
"I love my team," said Mirabella. "It's going to be hard leaving them because they're my family.
"We're both going to miss coach D. I'm going to pack him up and take him with me."