LISBON - Just when things looked bleak for the Western Reserve softball team on Tuesday, the top-seeded Blue Devils made plays when it counted the most.
After trailing the entire Division IV district semifinal game against third-seeded Columbiana, the Blue Devils got the bats working with hits from Marley Oles and Alexis Lude, but it was Alexis Miller's RBI single that lifted the Blue Devils to a 3-2 victory and a return trip to today's district championship against Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas at Dickey Athletic Complex.
"I think we'll definitely be excited to be able to play district finals again," Miller said.
After trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Maddie Kreitzburg hit a sacrifice fly to allow Aleah Hughes to score, followed by Alexis Lude's RBI single, and the momentum was on the Blue Devils' side as Miller brought in the go-ahead run.
"We were definitely down," Miller said. "Then we had that one hit that got us going, and from there we just didn't look back."
Hughes, who also picked up the win on the mound as she struck out 10 and walked two, felt relieved once Oles reached home.
"Once we scored the two runs, it became a confidence booster," Hughes said. "It was nerve racking, but we pulled through."
Western Reserve coach Joe Serensky noted the success of the Blue Devils, as well as the work ethic of Miller and Hughes.
"We've played great offense all season long," Serensky said. "Alexis really came through all season long because she worked hard all winter and she deserves the success she's had this season. Aleah and Maddie Kreitzburg have pitched well for us this year and have done very well."
The Clippers (22-5), meanwhile, drew first blood early in the first inning courtesy of junior Madison Roessler's solo home run, and the Clippers took a 2-0 lead in the fourth as Roessler scored on a passed ball. With strong defense for the first five innings, it appeared to be smooth sailing for the Clippers.
Then the Blue Devils went to bat in the sixth and the landscape changed.
"I guess we were just worried about the speed of the pitches," Roessler said. "We made contact so we know it was going to go. We got down on ourselves after our first error or two."
Up until the sixth inning, the defense stayed strong behind pitcher Madison Macklin who had struck out one. Despite the struggle in the sixth, coach Jerry Beltempo decided to keep Macklin on the mound to finish the game.
"I had thought about changing pitchers, and then just figured to let her go," Beltempo said. "We had played well enough to win. We didn't deserve to lose, but we didn't deserve to win either."
As the Clippers conclude their school-record 22-win season, Beltempo took pride in the team despite the inexperience at the start of the season.
"Coming in we had to replace five of our nine starters," Beltempo said. "We were younger and inexperienced, but we played well for most of the games we played this year."
The Blue Devils and Knights will battle for the Division IV district championship at 5 p.m. today. St. Thomas knocked off East Canton 15-7 in the other district semifinal.
Western Reserve beat Columbiana both times in the regular season, and in each game, the Clippers scored two runs.
The Blue Devils defeated the Clippers in softball district tournament action in the district semifinals in 2012 before falling to Jackson-Milton 3-2 in the district championship.
Columbiana's 22-win season broke the school record for most wins in a season. The previous Clipper record was 21 in 2005.
Western Reserve has eliminated Columbiana this school year in volleyball, basketball and softball tournaments, all during district tournament action.
"This is very exciting because there's obviously a rivalry in this," Aleah Hughes said. "Just knowing that we've beat them three times this year, it's a good feeling."
C-Madison Macklin, lp (6IP, 1K, 0BB) and Navi Kaur.
WR-Aleah Hughes, wp (7IP, 10K, 2BB) and Marley Oles.