By Michael Rich
Emily Gant struck out 11 batters over a complete-game six innings and Alyson Gruen delivered the knockout punch with a grand slam in the fourth inning to send 10th-seeded Central Crossing past 26th-seeded Olentangy Liberty 12-1 in a softball district final Monday in Pickerington.
Liberty upset 19th-seeded Grove City and top-seeded Delaware Hayes in its first two tournament games to get a shot at winning a third straight district title, which was a tall task for a team that finished six games under .500 in the regular season.
“We were glad to be here, we were proud to be here and we’re proud of the improvement in our team this year,” Patriots coach Bob Lee said. “The thing I liked (Monday) is we’re down nine runs and we’re diving and laying out for the ball — we never say die.”
Gant set down the first six batters she faced — five on strikeouts through the first two innings. Of her six innings of work, five were flawless frames to lead the Comets (19-7) in the circle.
“We knew we had to be disciplined and stay off the high stuff — that was our game plan,” Lee said. “And we didn’t really execute that.”
Meanwhile, Central Crossing sent all nine batters to the plate in a five run second inning to gain control. Andi Rapp delivered the big blow with a two-run single to give the Comets a 3-0 lead.
Gruen drove in the first of her five runs on the day on a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 4-0. Karolyne Jordan capped the second inning scoring with a RBI single.
Gruen delivered her one-out grand slam in the fifth — a no-doubter over the wall in center — after Central Crossing loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a hit.
Gant, who batted out of the leadoff spot for the Comets, led with three of the team’s nine hits.
Sydney Lane put the Patriots in the hit column with a double to lead off the third. Kennedy Kashmiry scored her with a two-out RBI single.
The Patriots (10-15) loaded the bases on a pair of walks, but Gant came back with her third strikeout of the inning and eighth in the first nine outs.
“It seemed like more than that,” Lee said about Gant’s 11 strikeouts. “That was big that we couldn’t get the big, timely hit that inning. We were one swing away from tying the game. To (Gant’s) credit, she seemed to get stronger when she got in trouble.”
Katelyn Wilhelm took the loss for Liberty, allowing nine runs in 3.1 innings.
“She didn’t have her top stuff — she couldn’t spot the ball like she did (against Delaware) — but she gritted it out,” Lee said.
The Patriots and the Comets, both of the OCC-Central, split in the regular season with the visiting team winning each time. Central Crossing won 9-2 April 5 and Liberty won 8-3 April 20.
“(Gant) beat us once before, but we beat her,” Lee said. “It was their day (Monday) as much as it was our day against Delaware.”
Central Crossing faces fourth-seeded Teays Valley in the regional semifinal Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Ohio State.
Olentangy picked up its second straight upset win of the postseason, outlasting host Orange 13-12 in an OSLA North-Central Region semifinal Monday in Lewis Center.
Dana Stover and Elise Harder poured in three goals apiece to lead the Braves while Alex Hummer finished with eight saves in the Olentangy goal.
Sarah Ramsey paced the Pioneers with a game-best five goals while Grace McAninch had seven saves in the setback.
Now the Braves, who beat Jerome 14-13 Thursday in Dublin, will hit the road again, this time to face either Jackson or Perrysburg in Thursday’s regional final. The winner will earn a trip to the state final four.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.