NEW PHILADELPHIA — Catholic Central head softball coach Jackie Rossi has every reason in the world to be proud of her team.
Thursday, the Crusaders were facing Strasburg, which was ranked No. 3 in the state in the final poll of the season, with a trip to the regional tournament on the line.
The odds were against the Crusaders knocking off the Tigers and reaching the regional tournament for the first time since 2002, however, Central responded with a team effort.
In the end, Rachel Happ delivered an infield single scoring Emily Canella with the winning run in the top of the seventh inning as the Crusaders defeated the Tigers, 2-1, in an Ohio Division IV Eastern District Final at Tuscarawas Central Catholic to advance to the regional tournament Thursday at Kent State University.
“I was thinking I need to put the ball in play and do my job for the team,” Happ said of her seventh inning at-bat. “It is a team sport, and everybody was depending on me. I just had to step up and do my job.”
Happ added the hit was the biggest of her career.
“Going up against Strasburg, they are an excellent team and an excellent program, and it just felt amazing to be able to compete with them.”
Rossi said the win was the biggest in the history of the Catholic Central program.
“I was talking to a lady I work with today, and her daughter was a junior on the ‘96 team when they beat Strasburg, and I remember that year,” she said. “I was in college, and I remember my mom calling me saying that Central beat Strasburg and was going to regionals.
“Back then, it was a big win. The tradition that Strasburg has in the state of Ohio is unbelievable, and I thought back to ‘96, and I thought about our team today. Our team is kind of similar to that ‘96 team. We have got a strong pitcher. They had a strong pitcher back in ‘96 in Jamie Price.
“We have got a team that just at this point is not going to be denied, and that will to win overcame some of our mistakes. It overcame the fact that Strasburg, one through nine, at any point can hit the ball over the fence. It just overcame so many things.
“I know this is a hard statement to put out there, but in my mind, this is the biggest win in Catholic Central softball history. I have seen big ones, when we beat Sandy Valley in the regionals and things like that, but there is no doubt when you look at this game, it is the biggest win in our program’s history.”
Canella began the seventh inning with a base hit. Chelsea Hutton followed with a sacrifice bunt advancing Canella to second.
Then, Angela Lucci followed with a base hit to put runners on the corners, setting the stage for Happ’s heroics.
In the bottom of the seventh, Kylie Decker led off with a single, and Emmy Hensel reached on an error.
Then, Kelsee Locker hit into a fielders choice with Decker getting out on third base for the first out of the inning.
Central catcher Kelly Costantini recorded the second out of the inning when she was able to catch a popped up bunt in foul territory. With two on and two outs, Abby Frohman grounded out to shortstop Sara Ashmead, who flipped the ball to Canella at second base to record the final out of the game.
“This game means a lot to me, because so far this season this was one of the best defensive games that I have played so far probably in all my high school career, and I am glad it was this game,” said Ashmead, who made several key defensive plays throughout the game. “So far, this has been the biggest game of my life.”
Melissa Costantini earned her 20th win for Catholic Central (20-7). The 20 wins sets the school record for most wins in a season. Meredith Hitchcock held the previous record with 19 wins back in 2004.
In the victory against the Tigers, Costantini struck out four, while walking just one and she limited Strasburg to just five singles.
“It feels really good, especially with us not having any seniors to lead us, but having a full team of juniors and some younger kids, I think we all stepped up as leaders,” Melissa Costantini said.
“Strasburg is a real good team, and they are a real strong team, but I think we all did really well. We made some good plays, and we had some key hits. I think it was a pretty good game.”
Offensively for the Crusaders, Happ and Kelli Petchal each tallied two singles and an RBI and Kelly Costantini contributed two singles.
“We played almost perfect, and believe me Strasburg did not hand us this game,” Rossi remarked. “We earned this win. Strasburg played an almost perfect game too.
“This is an odd game. At the beginning of the game, Strasburg had runners on in the first three innings, and we were able to get out of it without them scoring a run. Then, we scored that first run and we tried to put the pressure back on them.
“I heard coach (Joe) Corabi say, it was the top of the seventh, he said, ‘we are going to score here and then we are going to hold them.’
“That is something I do want, to give credit to my three assistant coaches, Bill LaMantia, Craig Creamer and Joe Corabi. They have worked really hard since the beginning of the season. All season long they have been working with the kids.
“I have got to give coach Creamer credit. He predicted this win. He told me last week that, ‘if we get to play Strasburg we are going to beat them.’
“I am not saying that I didn’t believe him, but I am saying that I knew we had to play a near perfect game to do it. It was just a thing of beauty today.
“For one of the very few times in my life, I am at a loss for words.”
Sophomore Carly Clark (19-2) took the loss for the Tigers (25-5). She struck out eight and walked one.
The Crusaders opened the scoring with a run in the third inning. Happ led off with a single, Bree Bayne reached on an error and Kelly Costantini walked to load the bases.
Melissa Costantini grounded to Megan Smith at first, who threw home to nail Happ at the plate, however, Petchal stepped up and delivered a single scoring Bayne giving the Crusaders a 1-0 lead.
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Crusaders 2, Tigers 1
Catholic Central 001 000 1 — 2 8 3
Strasburg 000 100 0 — 1 5 1
CATHOLIC CENTRAL (20-7): M. Costantini WP (4K, 1BB) and K. Costantini; Happ 2-1B, GWRBI; K. Costantini 2-1B; Petchal 2-1B, RBI; Hutton 1B; Lucci 1B.
STRASBURG (25-5): Clark LP (8K, 1BB) and Decker; Locker 1B; Clark 1B; Burnworth 1B; Decker 1B; Hensel RBI.