The Westerville Central High School softball team got off to a bad start against sixth-seeded Gahanna in a Division I district final May 24 at Pickerington Central and never recovered.

The Westerville Central High School softball team got off to a bad start against sixth-seeded Gahanna in a Division I district final May 24 at Pickerington Central and never recovered.

The 11th-seeded Warhawks committed two errors in the bottom of the first inning, helping the Lions take a 4-0 lead en route to a 9-1 win.

Gahanna improved to 24-6 and advanced to play North Canton Hoover in a regional semifinal Thursday, May 30, at Ohio State. The Warhawks, who were making their first district final appearance since 2007, finished 20-7 overall.

"We've been playing all year and we haven't played like that," coach Brian Wamsley said of the early miscues. "It was kind of nerves, but some of it was (the players) just have to know that they belong. I've been telling them all year that they belong to be here and I think they got a little overwhelmed when they got down early, they hung their heads a little bit."

Gahanna added a run in the second inning before Central scored its lone run in the third when junior right fielder Morgan Ciehanski singled to drive in senior shortstop Perry Wallinger, who reached base with a leadoff double.

Gahanna pulled away with two runs in the fifth inning and two in the sixth.

Lions pitcher Emmalee Harding held Central to five hits and had six strikeouts. Wallinger had two of the Warhawks' hits, both doubles.

"Perry had a great game at the plate," Wamsley said.

Junior pitcher Paige McMenemy allowed eight hits and five walks and struck out four.

Central opened the district tournament by defeating 38th-seeded Reynoldsburg 16-0 in five innings in the first round May 14. The Warhawks then defeated 20th-seeded Dublin Jerome 8-5 in the second round May 16 and fifth-seeded Olentangy Orange 2-1 in a district semifinal May 21 before falling to Gahanna.

Central went 11-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to finish second, behind Worthington Kilbourne (13-1) and ahead of Westerville South (10-4), Westerville North (8-6), Hilliard Bradley (6-7), Jerome (4-9), Hilliard Darby (3-11) and Dublin Scioto (0-14). A league game between Bradley and Jerome was canceled.

The Warhawks lose six seniors, including Wallinger, who had a .424 batting average and a team-high 35 runs and was named first-team all-league, and second baseman Hailey Pinkerton, who was honorable mention all-league.

"Everybody underestimated us at the beginning," Wallinger said. "We were ranked second to last in the OCC-Cardinal. This has been the best season I've had at Central. It's been a comeback season the whole time and I wasn't surprised when we won, but I was totally happy with it and I'm very proud of (the team)."

At the top of the list of expected returnees is McMenemy, who broke the program's season strikeout record with 251 in 164 1/3 innings. The previous mark of 214 was set by current pitching coach Olivia Wamsley in 2007.

McMenemy went 19-6 with a 1.19 ERA and led the team with a .522 batting average and had a team-high 44 RBI. She was named OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year.

Junior first baseman Allie Haines (.403) and sophomore third baseman Hannah Carter (.318) were second-team all-league and Ciehanski (.282) was special mention all-league.

Also expected to return are junior Kyleen Cody (1B/OF), sophomore Riley Brown (OF) and freshman Ellyn Briggs (C/1B).

"This has been one of my most fun teams to coach," coach Wamsley said. "These girls just worked hard from the get-go. It started back in the winter. They all had a goal. They wanted to shock everybody and beat all the Westerville schools."

Central won three of the four games against its crosstown rivals, defeating North 3-1 on April 15 and 8-0 on May 1 and beating South 6-1 on April 23. South won the rematch, 5-4 on May 3.