When the pressure has been placed at the feet of the Pickerington High School Central softball team, more often than not the Tigers have responded.

When the pressure has been placed at the feet of the Pickerington High School Central softball team, more often than not the Tigers have responded.

In fact, one run has decided 17 of the team's 29 games. Central has won 15 of those games, including all three it played in the Division I district tournament.

The Tigers return to the regional tournament after a one-year hiatus and will play Hilliard Darby in a semifinal today at Ohio State.

"Our kids just don't get rattled," coach Dan Drees said. "A lot of teams get rattled, but we don't fall apart when the pressure is on. They trust in each other. We've been through so many games already where we've come out on top, I guess they just believe."

Central defeated Gahanna 5-4 in a district final May 21 to improve to 23-6. It was the third meeting between the two OCC-Ohio Division opponents. The Lions won both meetings 4-1 on April 27 and 3-2 in 15 innings on May 16.

"We knew what to expect from Gahanna's pitcher (Kim Lennox)," Central pitcher Kelsey Long said. "We knew what defense they were going to play and I've faced their batters before. I knew what would work and what wouldn't."

Central led 4-1 before Gahanna scored two runs in the fifth inning. The Tigers scored their final run in the sixth on an RBI double by Merissa Magers.

"We told ourselves no team can beat us three times," Magers said. "To win a district title was amazing. I was on the team two years ago and, to win it again my senior year, it's pretty sweet."

In 2007, Central was the top seed in the district and won three games by a combined 24-0 en route to a district title. In the regional, Central beat Thomas Worthington 7-0 in a semifinal and Grove City 8-0 in a regional final. The Tigers then lost in a state semifinal to Hudson 5-4.

"That team had eight seniors and was very experienced," Magers said. "We have a young team this year. For us to come out with younger players and win a district title means a lot and gives us a lot of respect in the softball world. We may be young, but we know the game and we know how to play."

Darby awaits Central as the Panthers won their second consecutive district title May 20 by beating Dublin Coffman 10-2 to improve to 19-8. Coffman hadn't allowed more than seven runs in any game this season.

Darby entered April 27 at 5-7 overall before the Panthers won 14 of their next 15 games. In the district tournament, Darby knocked off sixth-seeded Westerville North 4-2 in the second round May 14 and third-seeded Upper Arlington 4-0 in a district semifinal May 18.

"We started the season in a rough situation, losing several games against state-ranked opponents," Darby coach Kevin Moody said. "Once we rallied to beat Upper Arlington (2-1 on April 27), the girls started to believe in one another and have trust in our system. We got confident and our pitching and defense came along. Later, the offense started clicking and we haven't looked back."

Darby beat Central 1-0 in nine innings in a district semifinal game last season behind freshman pitcher Kellie Roudabush, who finished with a 0.79 ERA and was second-team all-state.

Roudabush returned this season to lead the Panthers. In Darby's last two tournament games, she has 17 strikeouts. Roudabush was first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division, first-team all-district and first-team all-state this season.

"She was very intimidating to come out and pitch varsity as a freshman," Magers said. "But we hit off her last year, we just couldn't get runs through."

As impressive as Roudabush has been, Drees is cautioning his team against Darby's aggressive style of play.

"We have to make sure we won't fall asleep on a play," Drees said. "They run the bases well and they play defense aggressively in terms of throwing behind runners trying to get them rounding a base."

Long was effective against Darby's offense last season. She plans to use that experience to her advantage.

"We had a lot of their hitters off balance," Long said. "They have the same pitcher and a lot of the same players back. We should know something about them and because we lost to them, that gives us more motivation."

The winner will advance to a regional final Saturday at Ohio State against Teays Valley or Lebanon.

Teays Valley improved to 24-5 with the upset win over top-seeded Grove City 2-1 in eight innings in a district final May 20. The Vikings' starter, Alex Taylor, allowed three hits and struck out seven. Of Teays Valley's 22 wins, 18 have been by shutout.

Lebanon improved to 22-6 by beating West Chester Lakota West 3-1 last Friday, as Bethany Campbell pitched a three-hitter and struck out seven. The Warriors made two errors in the game, both in the fourth inning as the run was unearned.

Lebanon is making its second consecutive trip to the regional, as it lost to Grove City 3-1 in the regional final last season after beating Gahanna 5-4.