AKRON - Poland's softball players believe they're at their best when the outs get down to a precious few and the game is close.
It's the Bulldogs' time when that happens, and they can point to last season's Division II state championship run as evidence to back that theorem.
And if that isn't enough, there is now Poland's 3-2 victory over Woodridge in a regional semifinal Thursday at Firestone Stadium.
Poland (26-2) used its entire arsenal - the dominating pitching of Erin Gabriel, solid defense and timely hitting - to gut out a tight victory and move one step closer to returning to the state tournament.
"I never have a doubt in our team, whether we're behind or whether it's 0-0,"?Poland third baseman Jenna Modic said. "Regardless of what point it is in the game, I have faith in every girl on this team because we've been behind before and we've been in games when it's been 0-0 up until the last couple of innings."
The time, it was scoreless until Poland broke through against Woodridge pitcher Amy Donze (10 strikeouts, no walks) in the top of the fourth.
"Amy makes you chase balls that are unhittable,"?Poland coach Reid Lamport said. "What we told our girls is we've got to be more selective. You've got to hit a pitch you're capable of putting in play."
Marissa Trevis led off with an opposite-field double down the left-field line and Meredith Testa dropped a single into center field.
Modic grounded a single to right field to drive in Trevis and send Testa to third. Gabriel swung and missed a pitch that Samantha Schneider - the Woodridge catcher - had glance off her glove for a passed ball as Testa scored.
"I thought Marissa did a great job of staying back on that changeup,"?Lamport said.
Trevis said she was looking specifically for that pitch.
"I knew what to expect,"?she said. "I knew what she was going to throw at me, so I was just waiting for it and ready."
Poland added its third run - which proved pivotal - in the fifth. With one out, Arlia Duarte doubled to left despite a diving attempt by Woodridge's Alexys Abdur-Rahim. Duarte took third when the ball trickled into foul territory and shortstop Erica Huntsman bobbled it there.
Maura Bobby followed with a well-placed infield single to put runners on the corners. Donze then recorded a strikeout for the second out of the inning, and when she induced a grounder to the pitcher's circle from Testa, it appeared Woodridge might get out of the inning.
But Testa's squibber up the middle appeared to have some spin on it and Donze misplayed the ball, which dribbled toward third base as Duarte scored.
"We really needed that third run, because they came up and got two on us in the sixth inning,"?Lamport said.
That's when Woodridge (27-3) made it interesting against Gabriel, who did not allow a hit through 5 innings.
Amanda Green reached on an error to start the inning. Gabriel struck out the next batter, but walked Heather Schneider.
Donze hit a fly ball to left field, but the wind pushed it back toward the infield and it dropped a few feet off the dirt. Trevis picked up the ball and fired to second base for a fielder's choice to retire Schneider for the second out of the inning.
"When a ball is hit like that when you're on first base, I know you have to go halfway because you don't know if a girl is going to catch it or if she's going to drop it," Trevis said. "So I knew the moment it dropped, she had to get to second and I was right there to throw it."
But Gabriel and Poland couldn't escape unscathed. After Donze stole second, Samantha Schneider worked the count full and the freshman - who leads Woodridge in RBIs - delivered a two-run single to right field.
The hard-hit ball, which glanced off the glove of leaping second baseman Emily Chandler, was Woodridge's only hit.
Samantha Schneider stole second during Meridith Chopka's at-bat, but Gabriel seemed to reach back for a little extra and eventually got a swinging strikeout to end the inning.
"After the two runs, I knew I had to bear down and not let them tie up the game because we only had an inning left to win it,"?Gabriel said. "So I really had to keep my team ahead on the scoreboard."
Gabriel worked a perfect seventh - with a huge assist from Miokovic at first base - to send Poland into a regional final against Akron Hoban at noon on Saturday at Firestone Stadium.
Allison King led off the bottom of the seventh with a slow roller to the right side. The ball was past the pitcher's circle, but Miokovic fielded it, raced toward the bag and retired King by a half-step with a diving tag of the base.
"My defense did a great job,"?said Gabriel, who struck out 12. "Also, Meredith Testa behind the plate calling my game. She caught a popup bunt. I couldn't ask for anything more from them.