Two runs would have made Monroeville even more comfortable when Carley Helmstetter returned to the circle.
The Eagles did that and a whole lot more.
Monroeville exploded for nine runs in the sixth inning, finishing off a 13-3 win over McDonald in a Division IV regional semifinal on Thursday at Akron's Firestone Stadium.
"One run would have made me ecstatic," Monroeville coach Abe Helmstetter said. "That takes a lot of pressure off of you."
The Eagles improved to 23-4 and advance to Saturday's regional championship against longtime state power Hillsdale (17-5), which was 7-1 winners over Bristol in the first semifinal. The start is moved up one hour to 2 p.m. to try to beat impending bad weather in the Akron area.
"I would say we are playing our best ball right now," coach Helmstetter said. "We are getting there. I still do not think we have played our best yet."
Callie Rosser and Adelynn Kradlak each reached on infield singles to open the sixth inning. The two moved up to third and second base respectively after a wild pitch. After a strikeout, a ball hit by Sydney Meisler was fielded and thrown home, but Rosser was safe for a 5-3 lead.
Leadoff hitter Alex Carper followed with a RBI single before stealing second base. Payton Scheid did the same thing to push the margin to 7-3. Jessica Hayes then drew a walk, and Helmstetter emptied the bases with a three-run triple.
The onslaught did not end there. Skiler Hershiser reached on an error to bring in pinch runner Hannah Lyons. Rosser and Lydia Landoll were each hit by a pitch to again load the bases. Meisler recorded an infield single to score Hershiser and bring the Eagles within a run of finishing the game by run-rule. Carper then smacked a base hit to clear the bases for Monroeville to finish off the game.
"My mindset in my last couple of at-bats was just to stay focused and make her throw a lot of pitches," Carper said. "I just waited for the one I wanted."
While the Eagles celebrated what turned out to be a comfortable win, just 20 minutes prior, they were in a battle with the Blue Devils (18-5). McDonald scored single runs in the fifth and sixth innings to almost completely erase a three-run lead by Monroeville.
'There is a reason why they are in the regionals," coach Helmstetter said of the Blue Devils. "This time of the year, you have to relax and have fun. You have to trust what you have done over the season."
The Eagles broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning with three runs. Adelynn Kradlak reached on a bunt single before stealing second base. After a strikeout for the second out of the inning, Meisler hit a ball to second base. The defender mistakingly threw the ball home, but Rosser was safe at home. Carper followed with a triple to center field to score Kradlak and Meisler.
Monroeville scored early against McDonald pitcher Bri Callow. With Hayes on first, Helmstetter singled with two outs. Hayes went to third on a wild pitch and Lyons stole second. Hayes then scored on a second wild pitch and the Eagles were ahead.
"These girls have really grown," coach Helmstetter said. "I was talking with my assistant coaches after Tuesday's practice and as a coaching staff, we agreed on how much improvement some of these kids have made."
The Blue Devils got on the board in the third inning. Megan Ward singled and stole second before Callow singled to bring Ward in.
In the fifth inning, Callow singled before Elise McMaster was hit by a pitch. Sarah Lorello, who Helmstetter retired the first two times up, singled to bring McDonald within 4-2.
The Blue Devils drew within a run in the sixth inning thanks again to the top of their lineup. Ward and Lucy Wolford each singled before Callow added her third single to score a run. Ward and Callow went a combined 6-for-6 at the plate with two walks, two runs batted in and a run scored.
"We are young at spots," coach Helmstetter said. "That does not mean a thing though. It comes down to desire. It comes down to fight. It comes down to grinding out practices every day. I can't say enough of how proud I am of my team. They are blue-collar and they get it done."
McDonald consistently made Helmstetter work. The lowest pitch total in a single inning that Helmstetter had was 14 pitches in the second inning. The durable senior finished with 113 pitches in six innings. She struck out four and walked four.
"Carley pitched a smart ball game," coach Helmstetter said. "Sometimes, I just have to remind her how good she can be."
After not leading for a single pitch in the district final win over Lucas, Monroeville turned it around and did not trail for a pitch against McDonald.
"For a small town like Monroeville, being one of the last eight teams left is awesome," Carper said. "It is cool seeing everybody here. I am pretty sure more than half of the town of Monroeville was here. It is like a dream."
The late-inning hitting — specifically the sixth inning — has now become a stable of Monroeville's tournament run. Against Mohawk in the district semifinals, the Eagles scored four runs in the fifth and five runs in the sixth inning. Against Lucas in the district final, Monroeville put up three runs en route to a nine-inning win. The Eagles also scored six runs in the fifth inning of a sectional final win over St. Paul.
"I don't really know what it is about that," coach Helmstetter said. "I don't really care what it is either. Whatever it is, it’s awesome. These girls just play. They fight. It was fun."
Monroeville faces a stiff challenge when it takes on Hillsdale. The Falcons outscored its last four opponents, 15-0 on their way to the Division IV state championship last year.
“We will try to find some stuff out about Hillsdale, other than they have been a softball tradition seemingly since softball was invented,” Helmstetter said. “I don't know how many state championships they have, but hey, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best."
McDonald 001 011 — 3 8 0
Monroeville 100 309 — 13 12 1
WP: Helmstetter. LP: Callow. 2B: (Mc) Ward; (Mo) Scheid. 3B: (Mo) Carper 2, Helmstetter.