It wasn’t Tara Thacker’s first perfect game, but definitely the first with a season on the line for her North Canton Hoover softball team.

Whether or not she could do it was about the only suspense though, as Hoover put up four runs in the first inning and cruised to a 9-0 victory over Mentor in an Akron Division I regional semifinal Thursday at the University of Akron.

“Five innnings in I was like, ‘Oh crap, why I am thinking of this because I’m going to mess it up,’?” Thacker said afterward. “But I just tried to keep that out of my mind as much as possible and just keep throwing.”

The senior right-hander may have never thrown better during her stellar career, facing the minimum 21 batters and striking out 14. She finished with a flourish, striking out eight of the last nine and all three in the seventh.

Thacker, a Northern Illinois recruit, was also the hitting star for the Vikings with three hits in four at-bats, including two doubles and a run batted in.

Hoover (26-3) rapped out 12 hits and scored in five of the seven innings, advancing to a regional final against Walsh Jesuit at noon Saturday. Hoover won two one-run games against Walsh this season, 3-2 and 2-1 in eight innings.

Hoover’s seniors have never lost a playoff game as the Vikings seek their fourth state championship in a row.

Thacker said she had a five-inning perfect game earlier in the season, but couldn’t recall if she had any previously. She admitted the early run support made her task easier.

“That helps a lot, because the past few games we haven’t exactly had that,” she said. “Once we get a few runs on and we get those insurance runs, it really takes a lot of the pressure off and we’re able to play more loosely.”

The Vikings faced Mentor (9-16) in last year’s state semifinals, emerging with a 15-3, five-inning win that included a Thacker grand slam despite sitting through eight hours of rain delays.

No such problems arose this time on a pleasant, sun-drenched day. Hoover’s first four batters reached, and all scored against sophomore right-hander Allison Golic.

Sophomore Andrea Farrah walked, freshman Kailyn Yun singled and senior Jenna Lilley doubled to deep right center to bring in one. Junior Kathleen Shier doubled down the left-field line to drive in two, and with two outs Thacker fouled off four two-strike pitches before launching an RBI double to deep center for a 4-0 lead.

“We did a great job of jumping on them quick,” said Lilley, reigning Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year. “Our offense has been down a little bit the past few games, so we did a nice job overcoming that.”

In the second, Yun smacked a two-out single and scored on Lilley’s bloop double to right center. Thacker doubled with two outs in the third, scoring after a passed ball and wild pitch. Farrah walked in the fourth, stole second, advanced on a fly out and scored on a passed ball. Senior Kelly Dillow doubled in a run and scored on junior Kylee Holzopfel’s groundout to make it 9-0.

“As far as pitching, Tara was as sharp as she could get,” said Hoover coach Jerry Goodpasture. “She was throwing her screwball inside and two-seam fastball outside and she was hitting the corners. You add that to her speed and she’s tough to hit.”