ELM GROVE - Bellaire hadn't been to the OVAC Softball Tournament since winning the title in 2003, Melissa Lahna's first year as head coach.
Ten long years later, the No. 2 seed Big Reds enjoyed qualifying for the 2013 tournament so much that they played a little longer than usual Tuesday night in knocking off third-seeded Shenandoah, 6-5, in an 8-inning thriller on Ben's Field in a Class 3A semifinal under the lights at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Complex.
"We made a goal at the beginning of the season to get into the top 4," Lahna explained after a wild celebration. "Then, after we got into the top 4, we made the goal of winning it (the championship).
ALTHOUGH BELLAIRE’S Megan Ging wasn’t her sharpest on the mound Tuesday night, she delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Big Reds rallied to defeat Shenandoah, 6-5, in OVAC?Class 3A?semifinal action.
"Yesterday (Monday) we didn't play very well, but we won," she added, "and it came back and haunted us a little today. But I'll tell you what, those 11 girls over there have more heart than anyone I've seen."
The victory propels Bellaire into the championship game Saturday at 12:15 p.m. against undefeated Fort Frye (17-0), which blanked River, 6-0, in the other semi Tuesday, once again at the I-470 Complex.
With one out and the score deadlocked at five in the bottom of the eighth, Dallas Messenger laid down a perfect bunt that she legged out for a single. After she stole second, Megan Ging ripped an 0-1 pitch to left. Lahna wasn't hesitating in sending the speedy Messenger as her left arm looked like a windmill on a windy day. Messenger rounded third and headed for the plate, but the throw never came. Instead, for some unexplainable reason, the leftfielder came up firing to second base as Messenger slid in safely to win the game.
"I was just looking to make contact," Ging explained of her game-winning hit. "Anything to win. We want this more than anything."
The hit capped a rally that saw the Big Reds trail 3-0 and 4-2 before tying it at 4-4 in the sixth. They also trailed 5-4 entering the bottom of the seventh before pulling even.
"We're not a team to give up," Ging added. "Not at all."
The Zeps (9-9) lost a doubleheader at Bellaire early in the season, but they held their own Tuesday.
"Congratulations to Bellaire. They never gave up and battled to the end," was all Shenandoah head coach Tracey Trenner could say.
After being retired in order in the first three frames, Shenandoah tallied three runs in the fourth, only to watch Bellaire get two of them back in the bottom of the inning when Elisha Gillespie's 2-out double to center plated Mary Garloch, who had reached on an error leading off. Megan Maffe's grounder was booted as Gillespie, who had moved to third on a wild pitch, raced home.
Kelsey McKenzie's RBI single with two outs in the sixth put the Noble Countians ahead, 4-2, but the Belmont County nine used Maffe's 2-run double to center scored Taylar Canter and Gillespie, whom both had walked, to tie the game once again.
Shenandoah went back on top in the seventh when Blair Brown laced a leadoff double to right-center. With runners on second and third with one out, Justine Mallett's fielder's choice grounder scored Brown for a 5-4 lead.
However, displaying a never-say-die attitude, Mackenzie Conroy doubled to left field leading off the bottom of the seventh. She was bunted to third by Canter and scored when Maffe's 2-out grounder was misplayed.
"Megan Maffe really came through a couple of times for us," Lahna praised. "She's usually our bunter, but today she put the ball in play."
The Zeps had a golden opportunity in the eighth as Andrea Wood was hit-by-a-pitch leading off and went to second on an error. Jenna Cowgill's soft liner to left was snagged by a leaping Canter for the first out. Ging retired the side with a pair of comebackers to set the stage for her extra-inning heroics.
Messenger was the lone Bellaire player with multiple hits as she singled twice.
Ging only fanned one Zep, but she didn't walk a batter and scattered nine hits.
Shenan000 301 10- 5 9 4
Bellaire 000 202 11- 6 8 4
Batteries: Cowgill, Long (6) and Mallett. Ging and Messenger
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