COLUMBUS: The defending state champs are headed back to the state finals.

North Canton Hoover cruised to a 12-0 victory over Grove City Central Crossing in a Division I regional final Saturday afternoon at Ohio State University’s Buckeye Field.

Hoover won the game in five innings because of the OHSAA’s 10-run rule. The game took less time than Hoover’s two-hour commute to Columbus.

“The kids didn’t want to come down here on the bus trip, leaving at 7:30 this morning,” Hoover coach Jerry Goodpasture said. “But they got down here and took it out on Central Crossing.”

The Vikings put up 12 runs in the first three innings behind a patient approach with Central Crossing pitcher Savannah Dorsey — known for getting strikes by throwing her riseball outside the strike zone.

Hoover drew five walks in those three innings as Dorsey struggled to find the strike zone. The Vikings hit everything she did throw over the plate — hard.

“We were patient, had a lot of discipline and accepted the walks,” senior catcher Erika Warren said. “That’s what makes us so good, our discipline. When we lay off the high pitch, we’re a lot more productive.”

Six of the first eight Hoover hitters worked at least a three-ball count, just as Goodpasture had drawn it up. Leadoff hitter Mackenzie DiPietro perhaps embodied this plan to its fullest. DiPietro walked four times and scored three runs.

“We got kids on early with walks and they followed the plan the way they were supposed to,” Goodpasture said. “If you go up and you’re swinging, you’re doing what [Dorsey] wants you to do. The kids did a great job. They had patience. They made her bring the ball into the strike zone.”

It was Warren who started the onslaught in the first inning. With a full count and two runners on, Warren drove in both with a double off the base of the center-field wall. She then scored on senior Sarah Nist’s RBI sacrifice fly.

Hoover added five runs in the second inning, capped by sophomore Jenna Lilley’s three-run double to left-center field. Lilley scored on the play thanks to a two-base throwing error to bring Hoover’s lead to 8-0.

Junior Ally Farrah drove in two more runs with a double over the left fielder’s head and scored on Lilley’s triple to the warning track in right field.

As Hoover circled the bases on offense, pitcher Tara Thacker made quick work of the Comets. She threw all five innings, allowed only one hit and struck out seven.

“Tara did her job,” Goodpasture said. “She gave up one hit … couldn’t ask for more than that.”

A couple of weeks ago, Goodpasture refused to say his team had a good chance at repeating as state champions. That still holds true, but a 12-0 blowout in the regional final is cause for some optimism.

“I would say we’re playing well, yes,” Goodpasture said. “We’re hitting the ball, and hitting overcomes a lot of mistakes.”

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the high school blog at www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.