SENECA — Veteran Seneca softball coach Dan Stecken thought this season might be a rebuilding year before the campaign started back in March having lost a slew of talent to Pomp and Circumstance — including The Times 2018 Co-Players of the Year Taylor Bushman and Lyda Robinson.
But Stecken soon found out the "rebuilding" mantra wouldn't stick to the 2019 version of the Lady Irish diamond dynamos, so much so that this season's group equaled last year's accomplishment (33-4) of winning 30 or more games for only the third time in school history with the 2011 squad (30-9) being the first ever to reach 30 triumphs.
The 30th win posted for this years group came after an 11-5 victory where No. 1 seed Seneca (30-5) overcame a slow start to score eight in the fourth and three in the sixth that eventually secured an 11-5 Class 2A regional semifinal victory over No. 7-seeded Clifton Central (10-15) Tuesday afternoon here at Seneca High School.
The Lady Irish now advance into Saturday's regional championship contest set for 11 a.m. back in Seneca versus No. 4 seed Reed Custer (13-11) which blanked No. 5-seeded Woodland/Flanagan-Cornell 3-0 during Tuesday evening's second regional semifinal contest. The Lady Irish will be looking for their third consecutive regional championship and seventh in program history after registering another awe inspiring 30 win ledger.
"I've been blessed to have had a lot of good players and after we graduated that great class last year it's been amazing to see us come back again and win 30 again," Stecken said. "Some may have thought that we might not be up for the challenge of that again this season but I've had confidence in this group and they've shown me how tough they are and now we're on the verge of another regional championship. I'm so proud of this team and the way we played today."
Central actually got on the board first to go up 1-0 in the top of the second inning with an unearned run against Seneca starting and winning junior pitcher Anne Krull (7 IP, 5 R, 2 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 7 K), who raised her record in the circle to a sparkling 15-4.
The home squad finally got out of its hitting funk to plate eight runs on six hits in the bottom of the fourth off the Lady Comets starting and losing hurler Madelyn Meyer (3.1 IP, 8 R, 6 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 0 K).
After Abriana Jashari led off with a double and Gilliam Culbreth (3-for-4) singled, both tallied on an infield error to put their team up 2-1. Claudia Morris eventually added a two-run single that plated Maddy Klicker and Zoe Hougas to put Seneca ahead 4-1.
"I haven't been hitting the best so it felt great to get back in a groove," Morris said. "It was a powerful hit that gave us a little breathing room after a slow start."
Grace Flatness (2-for-4) then plated Morris with a line drive RBI single off the shortstop's glove to put the Lady Irish up 5-1. Kylie Winsor (3-for-4) followed with an RBI infield single before junior Cassidy Draves belted her eighth home run of the season deep over the fence in left field to cap Seneca's eight run explosion.
"I was just really itching to hit the ball hard because I haven't done so in my opinion recently," Draves said. "It felt good off the bat and when I hit it I knew it was going out."
The Lady Comets cut the gap to 8-3 with two runs in the top of the sixth after an RBI double by Meyer and an unearned tally after a Seneca error.
The Lady Irish responded with three in the bottom of the frame after a run-scoring single by Winsor and a two-run double off the bat of Hougas to put her team ahead 11-3.
Central would conclude the day's scoring after a two-run base knock from Kaylee Ketcherside (3-for-4) in the seventh before Krull struck out the final two batters of the game sending Seneca into Saturday's regional title tilt.
Seneca 11, Clifton Central 5
CENTRAL (5) — Panozzo ss/c 4-1-0-0, Offerman cf 3-1-1-0, Meyer p/lf 4-1-1-1, Ketcherside 3b/ss 4-0-3-2, Romero c 3-1-1-0, Gasperini 3b 0-0-0-0, Lehmkuhl rf 4-0-0-0, Warpet 2b 1-0-0-0, G. Poskin dp 3-0-1-0, Perzee 1b 2-1-0-0, Cox lf 0-0-0-0, White p 0-0-0-0. Totals 28-5-7-3.
SENECA (11) — Flatness lf 4-1-2-1, Arwood pr 0-1-0-0, Winsor 1b 4-2-3-1, Draves c 4-1-1-3, Jashari 2b 4-1-1-0, Culbreth 3b 4-2-3-0, Klicker cf 1-1-0-0, Hougas rf 4-1-1-2, Morris ss 3-1-1-2, Krull p 3-0-0-0, Carpenter ph 1-0-0-0. Totals 32-11-12-9.
Central (10-15) . 010 002 2 — 5 7 5
Seneca (30-5) . 000 803 x — 11 12 3
LOB — Central 7; Seneca 7, 2B — G. Poskin, Offerman, Meyer, Jashari, Hougas. HR — Draves (8). SB — Culbreth, Hougas, Morris. CS — Ketcherside, Morris. HBP — Romero (by Krull), Klicker (by Meyer).
Central ip r er h bb k
Meyer (L) 3.1 8 6 8 10
White 2.2 3 3 4 2 1
Krull (W, 16-4) 7.0 5 2 7 4 7