North Canton Hoover softball coach Jerry Goodpasture had some brief advice for junior catcher Kathleen Shier as she prepared to bat in the fifth inning.

Swing at the first pitch.

Shier listened and delivered — a three-run blast over the left-field fence to give the Vikings a three-run lead.

That home run proved to be the difference as Hoover edged Walsh Jesuit 4-3 for the Akron Division I regional championship Saturday at the University of Akron.

The Vikings (27-3) held on despite a two-run homer by Walsh freshman Laney Jones in the seventh that narrowed the lead to one.

“Coach told me to swing at the first pitch, so now I swing at the first pitch,” said Shier with a chuckle. “So I just swung at it.”

After freshman Kait­lyn Yun singled in senior Kaitlyn Eckelberry with the tying run with one out, senior Jenna Lilley walked. That brought up Shier, who saw a screwball from right-hander Taylor Rahach (19-3). “And I guess I just turned on it,” she said.

Goodpasture said Shier bats behind Lilley “for a reason.”

“We have her there so hopefully pitchers don’t pitch around Jenna,” he said. “But if they still pitch around her, they’re going to pay the price. I told her to be aggressive and go up there and swing.”

It was Shier’s second homer. Her first was against the same team and pitcher, a walk-off shot in a 2-1, eight-inning win over Walsh earlier in the season.

The homer Saturday put Hoover up 4-1 and the Vikings needed all those runs, as it turned out. Jones smashed a 1-1 pitch high over the fence in left, following a double by senior Taylor Stimson, to make it 4-3 with no outs in the seventh.

Goodpasture then strolled to the circle to visit with senior pitcher Tara Thacker.

“I said ‘Who’s leading — who’s ahead out there?’?” Goodpasture recalled. “Just treat it like a one-run game, that’s all. We still had the lead at that time and she came right back at them.”

Thacker responded, striking out the next three batters, to end the game and send the Vikings to the state tournament.

Hoover, three-time defending state champions, will face unbeaten Lebanon (32-0) in a 3 p.m. Thursday semifinal at Firestone Stadium.

For the third time, Hoover claimed a one-run victory over Walsh (27-4) this year.

Midway through the fifth inning, the Warriors held a 1-0 lead. Junior shortstop Lilli Piper led off the fourth with a double to the gap in left center, and moved to third on a groundout. Stimson bunted toward the pitcher, but Thacker’s throw to the plate was late and got away from Shier as Piper scored.

Thacker (24-3), who pitched a perfect game in Thursday’s 9-0 semifinal win over Mentor, was perfect through three innings Saturday until Piper’s hit. She allowed three hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out 11.

“They are a very good team, and they’re really good competition,” Thacker said. “And I’m proud that we’ve gotten a chance to play them three times, because I think it’s gotten us ready for now, and I think it’s helped us learn how to push through games.”

Hoover managed only four hits but drew seven walks and finally cashed in during the fifth-inning rally.

“We walked too many kids,” Walsh coach Bill Davis said. “It would have been a nice surprise, but you know, woulda, coulda, shoulda. Hopefully, we have a bright future. We’ve got a lot of young kids on this team. It’s tough to see. We’re family here. It’s tough.”

Read the high school blog at https://ohio.com/preps.