CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — It hasn’t been as long as you might think, but the Blue Angels girls varsity soccer program — which completed year four this past fall at the varsity level — didn’t exist the last time this happened.
The Gallia Academy softball team captured the program’s first district berth in four years Thursday night with a thrilling 8-5 victory over host Unioto in a Division II sectional final held in Ross County.
The Blue Angels (13-7) had at least one baserunner in all but one of the first five innings of play, but the guests still found themselves staring at a 3-0 deficit through five complete.
GAHS, however, answered with four runs in the top of the sixth for a permanent lead of 4-3, then added another four scores in the seventh to push its 1-run edge out to 8-3.
UHS (19-3) responded with two runs in the seventh and had the bases loaded with two away in the home half of the seventh, but Bella Barnette recorded a strikeout in the final at-bat — allowing the Blue Angels to capture the program’s first sectional championship since the 2018 campaign.
Ironically, GAHS defeated the Lady Shermans back in 2018 by a 10-0 count in Centenary en route to its last district tournament game.
GAHS trailed 1-0 after a Megan Miller solo homer in the bottom of the second, then the Lady Shermans countered with two more scores in the third as Miller singled home Avery Miller and Abbie Marshall en route to a 3-0 edge.
The Blue Angels, who had a hit in each of the first five innings except the fourth, had their best scoring opportunity come to an end in the third when the guests stranded runners at second and third with two away while facing a 1-0 deficit at the time.
However, in the top of the sixth, fortune started to favor the Blue and White as the first four batters reached safely … and manufactured their first run of the evening.
Colbie Nida started things with a walk, then advanced over to third on back-to-back singles by Jenna Harrison and Abby Hammons.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, Grace Truance received a walk that pushed Nida plateward for a 3-1 contest.
Maddi Meadows followed with 1-out, 2-RBI double to left-center that allowed Harrison and Hammons to score for a 3-all contest.
Emma Hammons followed with an RBI single that plated Meadows and gave GAHS its first lead of the contest at 4-3.
The Lady Shermans went down in order in the home half of the sixth, then Gallia Academy picked right back up where it left off to start the seventh.
Bree Cemini singled to start the top half of the finale and eventually scored on a Nida double for a 5-3 cushion, then Abby Hammons reached on a 1-out error.
After fouling off two pitches as part of a 2-2 count, Truance lifted her seventh offering deep over the left-centerfield fence. Both Nida and Hammons scored on the 3-run blast as GAHS pushed its lead out to 8-3.
Unioto made one last gasp in the home half of the seventh as Alexis Book led things off with a double and later scored on an Avery Miller single for an 8-4 deficit. Miller later came around on a Marshall double that trimmed the score down to 8-5.
With the win, the Blue Angels face Athens in the district semifinal round at 7 p.m. Monday night at the Ohio University softball field. The Lady Bulldogs also defeated Hillsboro in a sectional final Wednesday night by an 8-5 count.
“I can’t tell you how hard these kids have worked to be where they are right now,” GAHS coach Mike Burke said afterwards. “We talk about coming to the field and competing from first out until the final out, and they believe it. These girls never think that they are out of a game, and that was evident tonight. We kept competing, and it’s paid off for us twice now in the tournament.”
Gallia Academy outhit the hosts by a 12-9 overall margin and stranded only four of the 13 runners left on base. Both teams committed one error apiece in the outing.
Harrison and Meadows led GAHS with three hists apiece, followed by Emma Hammons with two safeties. Truance, Cemini, Nida and Abby Hammons also had a hit each in the triumph.
Truance drove in a team-best four RBIs and joined both Nida and Abby Hammons with two runs scored each.
Bella Barnette was the winning pitcher of record after allowing two earned runs, five hits and three walks over 4.1 innings of relief while striking out one.
Hannah Hull took the loss after surrendering eight runs (seven earned), 11 hits and two walks over 6.1 frames while fanning two.
Avery Miller paced UHS with four hits and two runs scored, while Marshall and Megan Miller with two safeties each. Megan Miller also drove in a team-best three RBIs for the hosts.
“We’ve played a really hard schedule and faced some really good teams in our league, so we aren’t afraid of the competition,” Burke said. “Obviously we’re playing pretty well right now and our confidence level is up. We know we belong in that game Monday night and we have another chance to continue our season, so I’m sure that the kids will be ready to go. We’re having fun right now, and that’s something that we don’t want to end anytime soon. We’ll be ready to go Monday night.”
Gallia Academy, after losses in the district semifinal rounds in 2017 and 2018, will be gunning for its first district tournament victory since beating McClain 3-1 in the semifinals of the D-2 tournament in 2012. The Blue Angels last won a district title in Division II back in 2010.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.