Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy's Jeff Johnson has been coaching softball longer than his players have been alive. The veteran coach has had to wait nearly that long to get back to a district final.
Johnson said he believes CVCA hasn’t been to a district final since 2004 — but the Royals will get another shot on Thursday.
CVCA advanced to the Akron Division II district final thanks to a 5-2 win over top-seeded Aurora Tuesday at Firestone Stadium.
CVCA (14-12) will play Thursday at 6 p.m. in the district final at Firestone vs. Crestwood.
He was all smiles after the win, but Johnson refused to to say his team was the underdog.
“Our kids are just having fun and playing really loose,” Johnson said. “Perhaps nobody outside felt like we could do this. We felt like we could do this.”
Aurora coach Sam Petrash could only rue his team’s missed opportunities.
“We try to do too many things at times,” Petrash said. “When we’ve lost this year, it’s been when we haven’t be able to do the little things. We didn’t do the little things today."
Petrash pointed to the bottom of the second inning as a key sequence. After catcher Aleesa Angelo led off with a double and pitcher Rachel Dudziak put down a sacrifice bunt, Aurora (15-8) came away with nothing.
“We popped out to third base and they got out of the inning,” Petrash said. “That turned the momentum right there.”
The big momentum swing came in the top of the third inning. With one on and one out, CVCA center fielder Kally Aston crushed a home run over the fence in left field to make it 2-0.
Johnson said it was only Aston’s second home run of the season, but the hit was her 44th hit of the seaon, which is a new CVCA single-season record.
“She’s been more of a single-double hitter for us this year,” Johnson said. “She’s a golfer. We’ve been trying to get her to swing all the way through.”
CVCA wasn’t done in the third inning. After the Royals drew two more walks, CVCA designated player Jackie Budrevich smacked a two-run double off the fence in right to make it 4-0.
That proved to be all the run support CVCA pitcher Lindsay Curcio needed. Curcio (8-6) went the distance, allowing two earned runs on six hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.
“She gave us a chance to win the game,” Johnson said.
“Their pitcher was spotting the ball good,” Petrash said. “We tried to do to much with it when she was spotting it.”
Dudziak (9-4) took the loss, giving up four runs on three hits with three walks and four strikeouts in three innings of work. Makenzie Krafcik gave up one unearned run in four innings of relief.
Curico made only one mistake in the game. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Aurora shortstop Julia Mazanec led off with her third home run of the season — a solo shot to left.
Angelo following the homer with a double, but Aurora got no closer.
In the top of the seventh, CVCA re-established its four-run lead. After Curcio reached on an error and shortstop Lauren McNeil walked, Budrevich came through with an RBI single to make it 5-1.
Aurora was finally able to string a few hits together in the bottom of of the seventh inning.
Angelo led off the inning with her third double of the game. After two pop outs, left fielder Arian Ugran singled and Krafcik came through with an RBI single.
Aurora had the tying run at the plate, but Curcio struck out Kayla Ring to end the game.