Clay’s Haley Dominique reaches base safely as Central Catholic first baseman Lauren Best attempts to dig out the throw.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
The Clay softball team began its postseason on Wednesday by thinking small.
The result was another big win.
With the wind gusting in at Rolf Park in Maumee, the Eagles rode a heavy dose of small ball and a masterful start by junior ace Brooke Gallaher to a 9-0 win over Central Catholic in a Division I sectional final.
Clay (22-2) got ’em on, got ’em over, and got ’em in with numbing efficiency.
How efficient? Honnah Susor led off the game with an infield single, advanced on a bunt single, and scored two groundouts later — and the rest of the day went much the same.
The Eagles didn’t need one extra-base hit to take a 9-0 lead through three innings, relying instead on nine singles, four Central errors, and a ton of situational hitting. They finished with 11 hits.
PHOTO GALLERY: Clay softball eliminates Central Catholic
Clay will play Southview in Tuesday’s district semifinals.
“We knew we were not going to get a lot of long balls with the wind,” Clay coach Brenda Radabaugh said. “So our focus was on moving the runner, get somebody on, move them around, hit behind them. The kids did a great job of that. That was very unselfish hitting.”
Clay still has two regular-season games remaining and can clinch the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship with a win over Whitmer today, though, naturally, its sights are now on a bigger prize.
The Eagles are bent on a deep postseason run and set out to send a message Wednesday against a rebuilding but fast-improving Central team. The Fighting Irish beat Clay 4-1 in the the teams’ last meeting to split the season series. Gallaher pitched that game too, and the day still burned.
“A little bit because we should have done better against them,” she said.
Wednesday featured little suspense, with Gallaher dominant from the start. She struck out five in the first two innings, allowing two hits — back-to-back singles to Rachael Drenner and Kelsey Wielfaert in the second — while striking out 11 in the shutout.
“Brooke threw really well in the circle today,” Radabaugh said. “She did a nice job hitting her spots, moving the ball around, keeping them on their toes, and the defense was solid.”
All the while, Clay’s bats steadily piled on, putting up two runs in the first inning, three in the second, and four in the third. Lindsay Schiavone led the Eagles with three hits and two runs scored. Susor added a pair of hits and three runs while Haley Dominique had the team’s only extra-base hit — a two-out double in the fourth inning.
“We’re definitely capable of hitting home runs,” Schiavone said, “but we showed we rely on execution.”
Central, which tied Clay for the regular-season TRAC title last year and won the conference’s playoff, finished 14-13 after struggling to gain its footing early.
The Irish returned only five players and two in the same position as last season.
“We virtually had a brand new team on the field and we progressed,” Central coach Larry Jaworski said. “You look at us, and we were 3-8 at one point.
“Where we are now — that speaks very highly of the program and the direction it’s going. We stress leaving things in the past and keep working to the future.”