Her mind racing with the thought she should have been celebrating instead of pitching, Hannah Gilkey of the Pickerington High School Central softball team induced a groundout to end the seventh inning of a Division I district final May 25 and raced to the dugout.

Her mind racing with the thought she should have been celebrating instead of pitching, Hannah Gilkey of the Pickerington High School Central softball team induced a groundout to end the seventh inning of a Division I district final May 25 and raced to the dugout.

The sophomore was greeted by her coach, Carrie Eneix, and teammates with hugs and words of encouragement.

"They just said, 'We're going to score and we're going to win. We're going to pull through it,'" Gilkey said. "Then I just focused and settled down."

One out from a 6-4 win over top-seeded Delaware, Gilkey fielded a groundball and overthrew first base with the bases loaded, allowing two runs to score. But in the top of the eighth, junior shortstop Allie Luther's two-run single to center field gave ninth-seeded Central, which was playing at home, an 8-6 lead.

In the bottom of the inning, Gilkey induced two groundouts and a fly out to start a raucous celebration.

"She was very upset, but we reminded her this is a team sport, not individual," Luther said. "We told her it was her game (and) that she could go out and win it for us. We reminded her not to doubt herself."

Central improved to 21-8 and advanced to play OCC-Ohio Division rival Grove City in a regional semifinal May 29 at Ohio State.

Luther's hit was the decisive blow in a back-and-forth game in which all runs were scored with two outs.

Sophomore third baseman Hunter Brancifort lined a three-run homer down the left-field line in the third inning to start the scoring, but Delaware answered with four runs in the bottom of the third on RBI singles by pitcher Mikayla Cooper and outfielder Abbey Frey and a two-run single by second baseman Adia Witter.

In the fourth, senior center fielder Molly Riggs' slow roller through the middle of the infield scored two runs and gave Central a 5-4 lead, and a bases-loaded walk to Luther made it 6-4. Riggs had three of Central's six hits.

Central sophomore outfielder Paige Johnson began the eighth with a bunt single. Two walks, a sacrifice and a fielder's choice loaded the bases before Luther lined a full-count pitch to center.

"When (Luther) came up, I told her there was nobody I'd rather have up than her," Eneix said. "I just know she's resilient and tough. I am proud of her for coming through."

The regional semifinal winner will play Gahanna or two-time defending state champion North Canton Hoover in a regional final at noon Saturday, June 1, at Ohio State. The regional champion will play Austintown-Fitch, Medina, Mentor or Solon in a state semifinal June 6 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.

Of their potential regional final opponents, Central split two OCC-Ohio games with Gahanna, winning 14-7 on April 22 and losing 12-0 on May 8 in its regular-season finale.

The Lions, who were seeded sixth in the district tournament, upset third-seeded Marysville 9-2 in a district semifinal May 21 and beat 11th-seeded Westerville Central 9-1 in a district final May 24.

Hoover was 30-0 after defeating Louisville 5-1 in a district final May 22. Junior pitcher Tara Thacker has 18 of those wins.

But past results don't seem to mean much to the Tigers, who entered the regional semifinal having won 10 of their previous 12 games.

"We didn't know much about Delaware coming into this game, either," Brancifort said. "We just knew they were the one seed and right now, that doesn't mean anything."