Oct. 14—PARKVILLE, Mo. — A 6-1 lead through four innings suddenly hung in the balance for the Central Indians.
By the time the bottom of the fifth rolled around, a pair of two-out runs by top-seeded Staley brought the Falcons within one of Central at 7-6. Annalisse Stepp then drove a ball to centerfield at senior Myah Dwyer, and Staley's Olivia Hubbs rounded third and headed home.
Dwyer's throw to home plate was right on the money for Delaney Grider, who applied the tag and preserved the lead, powering No. 4 seed Central to a 7-6 win Wednesday in the Class 5 District 8 semifinal at Creekside Baseball Park.
"When the ball was hit to me, I knew that runner at second was pretty quick. They were trying to score in the times they can because it's a pretty close game," Dwyer said. "As soon as that ball got hit to me, I was going in and knew Delaney would be there to catch it."
Central (26-7) keeps the program's best season alive by avenging a pair of losses this season to the Falcons (20-7). Staley won the regular-season meetings 4-3 and 13-10.
"We came into this game like, we're not getting beat three times," Dwyer said. "We just came out hot. It felt really good."
Dwyer led the game off with a first-pitch double, but the next three batters were sent down in order, highlighted by Staley center fielder Caroline Ray robbing a home run with a leaping catch at the fence.
Trenidy Milliken started the scoring by doubling in Chloe Bell then scoring herself after two wild pitches. Staley got back one run back on a one-hopper down the left-field line, and Central led 2-1 after two frames.
With two on in the third, Grider's fly ball to left snuck past the outfielder for a double and scored Zoe Trotter. Harlee Olson followed with an RBI single to score Jaylee Wilson.
Trotter's double in the fourth brought in two and led to a 6-1 lead.
"We knew we came out strong. We all knew we were hitting her," Trotter said. "As long as we were hitting her, we knew we were gonna find gaps, find ways to get on, find ways to score like we did."
Staley finally started to get to Central junior pitcher Makenzie Garr in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases. With two outs, Stepp's groundball spelled trouble in the middle of the infield, and a bobbled throw led to two runs scoring.
Camille Trotter got one run back on a hard ground ball to score Milliken, and Central led 7-3 with just nine outs needed.
With two outs, Ray sent a fly ball to left that Milliken nearly hauled in on a diving attempt, but two runs crossed and cut the lead to 7-5. Hailey Herman chopped the lead to one on a fly ball to center.
But with Herman on second, Dwyer's play stopped the damage and set the tone the rest of the night. Dwyer and Milliken both made highlight plays in the outfield throughout the night.
"We said we have to play every ball out," Central coach Kendra Hodgin said. "This was the third time they've seen Makenzie. We knew they were gonna hit, hit well. We told them run out every single thing, make the play, and they did."
Central's Chloe Bell and Myah Dwyer each hit two-out multi-base hits in the final two innings, but to no avail. And when she was needed most, Garr ended the game with her first 1-2-3 inning of the night.
"Oh, man. There's a lot of emotions," Dwyer said. "That was so exciting. I was just so happy, man. I'm so happy. All the hard work we've been putting in is finally paying off."
Zoe Trotter finished with two hits, two RBIs and one run. Milliken had two hits, two runs and on RBI. Garr allowed just one earned run, yielding 11 hits and three walks against three strikeouts.
Central will face Liberty North at 4 p.m. Thursday for a chance at the first district title in program history.
"Very confident that we're gonna do what we need to do to win a game. That's awesome," Hodgin said. "It feels good to be able to say that."
Brandon Zenner can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowZenner.