ELM GROVE - Harrison Central and St. Clairsville split a pair of regular-season games this season.
When the two Buckeye 8 rivals met Thursday afternoon at the I-470 J. B. Chambers Complex, a berth in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 4A championship game was at stake.
The second-seeded Huskies (12-4) earned the coveted spot with a 4-3 nod over the No. 3 Red Devils (9-8) on Ben's Field.
HARRISON CENTRAL leftfielder Roni Caldwell, left, holds onto the softball despite colliding with shortstop Hannah Edwards during the second inning Thursday afternoon at the I-470 J.B. Chambers Complex. The Huskies prevailed, 4-3, over St. Clairsville.
"It was a great game by both teams," Harrison Central head coach Donnie Bethel said. "I don't think either team played its best. I know we can play better than we did today, and I know St. Clairsville can play better than they did.
"In the end, we did just enough and sometimes that's all it takes ... just a little more."
Lauren Figura's bloop single to shallow center with two outs in the first inning scored Beanz Hummel, who had singled and went to second on a groundout, to give St. Clairsville an early 1-0 lead.
It remained that way until Harrison Central bunched half of its six hits in the bottom of the third, scoring three times for a 3-1 advantage.
Roni Caldwell, the No. 9 batter, drew a one-out walk and Paige Dunlap singled sharply to left. Kiley Staley followed with a single up the middle that loaded the bases. Kara Dunfee's base rap to left scored Caldwell and kept the bases juiced. An infield grounder was misplayed, allowing Dunlap and Staley to cross the plate.
The two pitchers - Figura and Katie Ellzy - dominated the middle innings until Harrison Central got a run in the bottom of the sixth. Jessica Custer laced a leadoff single down the rightfield line and Shianne Nameth followed with a solid base knock to left. A groundout left runners on the corners, but another costly error allowed Custer to score what turned out to be the decisive tally.
Down to their last at-bats, the Red Devils quickly displayed that never-say-die approach as Alicia Avila singled to left leading off. After Krista Morrison was hit with a pitch, Summer Gallentine's roller to third resulted in a force out. Mikayla Otto's bloop single to left loaded the bases and Michaela Miller drove in Morrison.
Gallentine scored on an error to make it 4-2, but Ellzy got a comebacker to end the game.
"Normally we close really strong, but for some reason today, we couldn't do that," Bethel noted.
"We closed well enough. I'll take that.
"This is the third time we've played each other. The girls know one another. They know where we hit, and we know where they hit," he added. "They (St.C.) played tough, but at the end of the day, we had one bigger inning than they did."
Hummel had a pair of base knocks for the Red Devils.
Figura struck out just one and walked two. Ellzy fanned seven and didn't walk a batter.
St. Clairsville will host Buckeye Local in regular-season action today. Harrison Central will welcome Martins Ferry in a key Buckeye 8 matchup.
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