SHADYSIDE - The further a team advances in the postseason, the more contributions it needs from up and down its batting order.
It's no secret that St. John Central has relied on the top and middle of its order most of the season, but Wednesday night at the Mead Township Park Complex, the Irish (24-3) received four RBI from the No. 8 and 9 hitters in defeating Toronto, 7-1, in a Division IV co-sectional softball tournament final.
With the victory, top-seeded St. John Central makes its annual trip to Tuscarawas County Monday afternoon for district tournament action against the winner of today's Tuscarawas Catholic Central-Garaway game. Monday's game has a 5 p.m. first pitch.
Toronto catcher Kayla Brown anticipates the slide home from a St. John runner and prepares to tag for the out during Wednesday’s game in Shadyside.
"This is the 12th time in 13 seasons that we've won the sectional," veteran head coach Jerry Magistro said. "I can't remember what year we didn't make it. All I know it was (Beallsville's) Charity Street's senior year."
St. John Central, which clobbered the same Red Knights recently by a 14-2 count, found itself locked in a 1-1 deadlock after 3 innings.
However, bunching five base hits together in the bottom of the fourth, the Irish tallied four runs and never looked back in bumping the margin to 5-1.
Morgan DeLuca ignited the outburst with a leadoff single through the left side of the Toronto infield. Caitlyn Sliva promptly singled up the middle, and Sydney Helms' single to left loaded the bases. Kristen Russell's single got the first run in and, after the first out was recorded, Cheyenne Harris' groundout plated the second.
Kyleigh Falcone's clutch two-out single concluded the rally.
"To get that kind of production from those two girls was great," Magistro said. "I think we are starting to hit all the way through our order."
Seven of the nine Irish batters recorded at least one base hit, with Sliva leading the way with a pair of singles and a triple. She drove in one run.
"Caitlin really hit the ball today," Magistro offered. "She's been coming around and swinging a hot bat."
Sliva scored the first run of the game on a single by Harris with two outs in the second. Helms was thrown out trying to score on a fine relay by the Red Knights.
Toronto drew even when Becky Schaming double to left with two outs.
Shane Sears singled down the right field line as Schaming raced home.
"You can't afford to make any mistakes against a team like St. John Central," Toronto head coach Eugene Cicarelli said. "My girls played their hearts out. They gave it all they had, and as a coach, you can't ask for any more than that.
"What I do know, if you didn't pitch well and hit well, we were probably going to beat you because we were steady all season long," he added. "We usually played within our limits."
The Irish added two more insurance runs in the fifth when courtesy runner Natalie Cervelli safely slide home on the back-end of a double steal and Sliva's single plated Abby Adams.
"Give Toronto credit," Magistro said. "They came to play today."
Hannah Absalom struck out 13 and walked just one in tossing a 3-hitter. She retired 13 of the last 14 Red Knights she faced.