ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Steubenville Catholic came to Belmont County with the idea of putting immediate pressure on the St. Clairsville Red Devils on Wednesday afternoon.
The Crusaders accomplished that and never let up.
Scoring in six of the seven innings, coupled with solid pitching from freshman Alex McComb, the Crusaders are headed to the Division III regional tournament at Lancaster High School next Wednesday by virtue of an 8-2 victory against St. Clairsville.
Members of the Steubenville Catholic Central softball team celebrate their victory against St. Clairsville on Wednesday.
"Our goals are always to make and win the OVAC and at least make it to the regional," SCC coach Jim DiCarlo said. "We knew this district was tough and would be a battle, but as I've said before, some teams have more athleticism than we do, but none have more desire, heart and focus."
The Crusaders will next face either defending state runnerup Bloom-Carroll or West Jefferson in the regional semifinal. Those two clubs battle at Pickerington Central next Friday afternoon.
While Steubenville Catholic is making regional plans, St. C. finishes its season at 12-12.
"I have give them credit because they really hit the ball," St. C. coach Rachael Duncan said. "A lot of them were true base hits. Offense has been our strong point this season, but we just didn't come through."
McComb went to the circle with a 1-0 lead and it could have been plenty more. St. Clairsville actually wiggled off the hook in the first two innings before Steubenville Catholic broke through in the fourth with a three spot.
"I really liked how we hit the ball early, but we left so many runners on," DiCarlo said. "I don't know how many we stranded, but it had to be terrible. Alex was sharp, but I thought our hitting was the difference."
The Crusaders produced up and down the order, but the heart of the order with senior Taylor Clark and junior Maddie Gulan delivered the big hits. Clark had a two-run single in the fourth and Gulan, drove in three runs, including a laser shot solo home run that hugged the left-field line.
While the Crusaders' offense was doing its thing, McComb just kept trucking in the circle. She actually sat down the first 10 she faced in a row before senior Beanz Hummel singled.
"Even though we weren't scoring all the time, I thought we kept the pressure on at all times," DiCarlo said. "We executed our game plan well in all three phases. We didn't get a lot of clutch hits, but I knew sooner or later that if we kept hitting it hard, we could get things going."
As the Crusaders tacked on insurance run after insurance run, it made it that much tougher on the Red Devils' offense.
"It's hard to come back once they kept scoring more and more runs," Duncan said. "(McComb) kept us a little off balance with her rise and change up. We didn't give them our best. While it didn't happen for us, we're still proud of a good season."
Along with Gulan and Clark, Steubenville Catholic's offense received solid production from junior lead-off hitter Micca Mirabella (single, RBI), Sammi Giannamore (two singles), Kelsey Grandinetti (double, single) and Megan Lloyd (single).
St. Clairsville's offense, which mustered six hits, was led by Alicia Avila's double. Mackenzi Otto's RBI.