KENT - When Western Reserve found itself in a two-run hole during the third inning of their Division IV regional semifinal at the Diamond at Dix Stadium, it wasn't the most difficult predicament the team had faced all season.
The Blue Devils lost their shortstop, Jenny Stubbs, to a torn ACL on the last game of the regular season, and they still managed to advance to the regional tournament for the first time since 2007.
Thus, Western Reserve's reaction wasn't much of a shock to coach Joe Serensky, nor were the offensive fireworks. The Blue Devils amassed 12 hits and scored five unanswered runs to beat Seneca East, 5-2.
"We lost our starting shortstop, who's probably one of the best in the state, and I had to switch a couple girls around," Serensky said. "The girls never used that as an excuse not to come out and play great softball.
"When we went down 2-0, the girls answered."
The Blue Devils (21-2) didn't waste any time responding when the Tigers (17-11) plated two runs in the top of the third off pitcher Aleah Hughes.
In the bottom half of the inning, Western Reserve's No. 9 hitter, Abby Hemphill, walked to lead off, but two batters later, the left fielder sat on second base with two outs. That's when the Blue Devils rallied, as they connected on five straight hits, including back-to-back doubles by Hughes and catcher Marley Oles, to score four runs.
That inning marked the second time through the Western Reserve lineup, and it seemed the team figured out Seneca East pitcher Rachel Bauman. Over the final four innings, the Blue Devils had 10 hits.
"Sometimes once you've seen (a pitcher), you figure out what she's throwing - that does help us the second time around," Serensky said. "We've done a good job adjusting to these pitchers after the first time through the lineup and then having some big innings in those middle innings this year."
Despite all the hits and the dangerous situations, Western Reserve scored just one run outside of the third inning, as the Blue Devils stranded seven runners over that span.
Three of those stranded runners came in the fifth inning, as Bauman was in a base-loaded jam with no outs. She managed to get out of it, though, by striking out two Blue Devils and getting the third to fly out.
"I'm really proud of the fact that we proved we belonged here," Seneca East coach Steve Coppes said. "I think today, even though we didn't win, I think we might have gained a little bit of respect for the fact that we didn't get blown out by a very, very strong team."
That was more run support for Hughes, who struggled early with her command early before settling down and fanning nine batters.
"I'm real excited," Hughes said. "It's a big game that we won, and I'm really excited about moving on to the next game."
Now, the Blue Devils will face Cuyahoga Heights in the regional final on Saturday. Serensky said the team expects to be challenged, but it's not the first time this season that's happened.
"I know from reading and talking with some scouts and coaches, we're going to have our hands full on Saturday," Serensky said.