ST. CLAIRSVILLE - It's certainly a cliche to say that it's a shame someone had to lose a game.
However, when it came down to the Steubenville Catholic Central and Martins Ferry softball game in the Division III sectional tournament at the Junior Sports Complex Thursday evening, it was totally accurate.
Two quality teams with similar styles of play went back-and-forth on a roller coaster of momentum before the second-seeded Lady Crusaders pushed across two runs with two outs in the seventh, on a soft single into center by senior catcher Taylor Clark, lifting Steubenville Central to a hard-earned 6-5 victory.
CELEBRATION — The Steubenville Catholic Central softball team celebrates after defeating Martins Ferry 6-5 in St. Clairsville.
-- Paul Krajnyak
"We've done it all year long," said a relieved Steubenville Central head coach Jim DiCarlo. "Our kids just battled. They always believe. We were down three runs in the fifth and most teams would have folded. You can't fault effort."
While the Lady Crusaders mobbed Micca Mirabella and Sammi Giannamore, who scored the game-tying and winning runs, respectively, the Lady Purple Riders battled back tears and a completely opposite emotion as their season comes to an end in the sectional for the first time under head coach Paige Williams' watch.
"This one's tough," Williams said. "This senior class is the first one I've coached all the way through and that makes it even tougher. We battled, but give Steubenville Central credit because they're a good ball team and we knew that coming in."
Martins Ferry appeared to have the game exactly where it wanted it when it struck three times in the top of the fifth. Senior Addie Suriano looped a single to drive in a run and then, two hitters later, pitcher Shayle DeLeonardis singled in a run and Suriano eventually raced home on a fielder's choice.
However, the Lady Crusaders, who have played in nip-and-tuck games all spring, came back with a three spot of their own in the bottom of the inning to knot the game. Clark, who is playing with a torn ACL and went the route behind the dish, singled to plate Mirabella and Giannamore. After she moved up on a throwing error, Maddy Gulan singled her home.
Both teams went quietly in the sixth, setting up the dramatics of the seventh.
Ferry pushed a run across as DeLeonardis doubled home Brooklyn Monroe from first, giving the Riders the lead.
Steubenville Central was down to its final out after having a runner thrown out at the plate in the seventh. Giannamore raced to second with an uncontested stolen base.
"I toyed with the idea of throwing to second on the steal, but it's too risky," Williams said. "I can't say I didn't think about it, but it's just too risky. We also talked about walking (Clark), but then it's (Gulan), so it's just six of one and half a dozen of the other."
Clark lofted the ball into no-man's land behind second base in shallow center and DiCarlo didn't hesitate in sending Giannamore.
"I wouldn't want anyone else up in that situation other than Taylor Clark," DiCarlo said. "This was just a great game and give Martins Ferry credit because their speed really hurt us, but we found a way."
Frosh pitcher Alex McComb recorded the win in the circle, working the route. She fanned four and the only walk she allowed was intentional.
Mirabella was impressive once again as a table setter. She was on base three times with three singles and scored twice. DeLeonardis once again pitched well for the Lady Riders. She had two strikeouts and didn't issue a free pass. Cassie Hanson had a RBI triple for the Lady Riders in the fourth.
Steubenville Central will return to Belmont County Wednesday to take on St. Clairsville in the district championship game. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. The winner of that contest advances to the regional in Lancaster.
Steubenville Central 6, Martins Ferry 5
Martins Ferry 000 130 1 - 5 5 2
Steubenville Central 001 030 2 - 6 9 3
MARTINS FERRY: DeLeonardis (LP, 2K, 0BB) and Hotlosz.
STEUBENVILLE CENTRAL: McComb (WP, 4K, 1BB) and Clark. Mirabella 3S, 2R; Clark 2S, 4RBI; Gulan S, RBI, Giannamore 2R.