PICKERINGTON - The wait took nearly a week. The bus ride took over two hours. Then, the adrenaline of finally playing in a Division II regional semifinal kicked in immediately.
The Indian Creek softball team was ready for a surge to start its steps to state after not reaching this level since the late 1990s.
"We got off the bus ready to play," said Redskins coach Angie Penner. "The girls prepared hard for three days for this game. They took batting practice twice a day, so it was basically six days of practice crammed into three."
That extra work looked to pay off early against the defending state champion Licking Valley Panthers on Wednesday.
Creek drew three straight walks, Abby Orr stole two consecutive bases and Alexis Monroe ripped a solid hit to left field - all in the first inning. Unfortunately for the Redskins, the spark would run out after that.
And they didn't have a run to show for it.
The Panthers quickly picked up three runs in the bottom half of the first and added on for a 7-0 victory.
"We took ourselves out of situations there in the first inning," Penner said. "I think by getting a run or two there, that could've put a little more pressure on Licking Valley. It really could have.
"Our girls were ready for this game, though, and they gave it their best shot."
Indian Creek, which finishes the season at 17-3, forced Licking Valley's all-state junior pitcher Shelby McCombs to throw 35 pitches in the first inning, alone. Seventeen of those were balls.
"The girls were disciplined at the plate," Penner said. "They didn't swing at bad pitches."
Orr made the first out of the first inning on a close play at the plate. Panthers catcher Corey Caughenbaugh fired to first base in an attempt to pick-off Mallorie Sullivan, who reached on a walk. The ball trickled behind the first baseman and Orr made an unsuccessful dash to the plate.
Creek left the bases loaded in the first inning. Monroe's hit was the only one it got for the remainder.
"McCombs is probably the best pitcher in the state," Penner said.
She struck out eight and walked six. McCombs threw 15 first-pitch strikes and retired the Redksins in order in the third and seventh innings.
Her counterpart, Paige Geanangel, was equally effective. Creek's junior ace threw 11 first-pitch strikes. She struck out three to bring her season total to 155 strikeouts. Geanangel walked a pair, which brings her to just 20 on the season.
"The reason we were 17-3 is because of Paige keeping us in ballgames," Penner said. "She's been our workhorse all year. Going up against the defending state champs, you can't ask for anything more out of her."
The Panthers (22-4) collected 10 hits. Their four in the first inning was their highest output of any frame. It was headlined by a three-run homer from Cierra McConnell. Licking Valley added two more in the second off a pair of Creek errors. Payton Brownley drove in a run on a fielder's choice in the fifth and another came across on a wild pitch.
"We had some errors that gave them extra chances," Penner said. "We had a chance, ourselves, early. It could've been a different story if we could've capitalized."
Still, the Redksins accomplished two of their three goals this season. Winning the sectional and district tournament helped erase thoughts of falling in the OVAC 5A title game to John Marshall on May 3.
"We had a great season," Penner said. "Anything beyond what we wanted to accomplish was just a bonus. We still wanted to win and still wanted to go on. But we knew what we were up against."
Living Valley will face the winner of Maysville and Logan Elm. They play today at 5 p.m., then square off against the Panthers Saturday at noon.