SHADYSIDE - Top-seeded St. John Central and Toronto advanced to the Division IV sectional softball tournament co-final Monday with opening-round victories, but the Irish and Red Knights took entirely different paths in reaching their destination at the Mead Township Park Complex.
In the opener, knowing that they only had two hours until the OVAC Banquet of Champions was to start, the Irish (23-3) didn't waste any time in routing Frontier, 15-0, in 63 minutes.
The Red Knights (16-7) used solid pitching, timely hitting and nearly flawless defense in slipping past Bridgeport, 2-1, in the nightcap that took only 1:07 to play.
With the victories the teams will play at 5 p.m. Wednesday for the right to move on to district tournament action in New Philadelphia next week.
In the opener, Hannah Absalom struck out a dozen, walked two and allowed a bunt single in the top of the fifth in leading the Irish to the lopsided triumph.
"Hannah was Hannah again," Irish coach Jerry Magistro said. "We didn't expect any less of her, and she delivered."
She also helped herself at the plate by smacking her second career grand slam that highlighted an eight-run third inning. The Irish sent 13 batters to the plate, with five of them reaching by hit.
St. John batted around in the bottom of the first when 11 hitters went to the plate. Morgan DeLuca's sixth homer - a two-run shot - ignited the early outburst.
"Morgan got us going early," Magistro added. "That homer was huge."
Kristen Russell had three hits and three RBI. Cheyenne Harris added two RBI on a single and sacrifice bunt. DeLuca and Kaydie Coppa finished with two hits each.
The only hit surrendered by Absalom was a bunt single by Brenna Scott leading off the fifth for the Cougars (4-17).
In the nightcap, Toronto punched its ticket as No. 9 hitter Carly Cooper singled in Lexie Berger in the third and fifth innings, and Cari Horne scattered three harmless singles.
"I didn't even realize that," Toronto coach Gene Ciccarelli said when informed of Cooper's heroics. "That's awesome. That's special.
"These are two pretty evenly matched teams. We told the girls to go up there and make contact. Put the ball in play and make them make the plays."
Berger led off the third with a walk and went to second on Chelsea Anderson's sacrifice bunt. An groundout moved her to third and she raced home when Cooper's two-out infield blooper fell untouched.
The Bulldogs (10-13) drew even in the fourth as Keri Renzler, playing for the first time since suffering a broken thumb in Game 4, was hit by a pitch with two outs. Caitlyn Kroll's single to right sent Renzler scurrying toward third, but the relay throw plunked her in the helmet and caromed out of play, allowing her to touch home.
Toronto responded in its next at-bat as Berger's bunt was thrown wildly down the first-base line as she hurried to second. Anderson again laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Berger to third. After Hadzima struck out the next batter for the second out, Cooper sent a shot up the middle that deflected off of Hadzima's glove for an infield single as Berger scored.
All the while, Horne was settling into a groove after the third as she retired nine in a row until Emily Nowakowski's sixth-inning drive to right was dropped, but she was nailed at third on a fine relay throw. Horne got the Bulldogs 1-2-3 to end the game.
Horne finished with seven punchouts and no walks.
Hadzima struck out three and walked a like number. She permitted five hits - all singles.