Allie Neal snagged a ground ball to third, make a careful throw to Kaylan McCartt at second for the force out, and just like that, Oneida walked away with a 7-5 win over Coalfield in an elimination game at Bear Creek Wednesday evening.
It was almost an anti-climatic ending to a thrilling game with high stakes.
A pair of two-out rallies for Oneida — one in the third inning and another in the seventh — provided what would turn out to be the win for the Lady Indians, keeping their season alive for at least two more games and providing them their first regional appearance in three years.
Coalfield made things especially interesting in the bottom half of the seventh, scoring two runs and bringing the tying run to the plate before Amanda May and the Lady Indians recorded three consecutive outs on fielders' choices.
Diana Ratcliffe, Coalfield's ace pitcher, made a big comeback from her Monday performance, which saw the Lady Indians pile it on late in a 23-7 win. Ratcliffe struck out 11 batters and held Oneida to four hits going into the seventh inning. But Oneida took advantage of its limited hits and capitalized on several errors by the Yellow Jackets' defense.
Ratcliffe had a no-hitter going through two outs in the third inning, when Oneida finally began to find a rhythm at the plate.
Jenna Bridges hit an RBI single to score Jasmine Jones, who had walked for Oneida's first baserunner, to jump-start a two-out rally.
By the end of the night, all of Oneida's seven runs came with two outs on the board, similar to Monday's game against the Yellow Jackets, which saw Oneida take advantage of two-out situations.
After Presley West walked to follow Bridges' base hit, Kennedi Reed had an RBI single to score Bridges, followed by West scoring on an error with Micah Stephens at the plate.
Then Tesla Huling delivered a big shot — a two-run double into deep left center, giving Oneida a 5-1 lead.
But Ratcliffe began to take charge again in the fourth inning. With two outs in the seventh inning, she had faced 13 consecutive batters while allowing only one hit, and allowed just two batters to reach base during that time frame.
Meanwhile, Coalfield scored on a Ratcliffe RBI — which scored her sister, Megan Ratcliffe — in the bottom of the third, and added another run on a Taylor Bird RBI triple in the bottom of the sixth.
A key point for Oneida came in the bottom of the fifth. With Megan Ratcliffe in scoring position and Diana Ratcliffe at the plate, Oneida forced Ratcliffe to pop out — the first time in the tournament that the Lady Indians had prevented her from reaching base.
An inning earlier, Oneida had gotten out of a jam when May struck out back-to-back batters after Coalfield had loaded the bases with just one out.
With two outs and nobody on in the top of the seventh, and the hard-hitting top of Coalfield's order due up, it was time for Oneida to get nervous.
But Presley West jump-started the two-out rally with a base hit, followed by an RBI double by Reed and an RBI single by Stephens, pushing the lead to 7-3.
Those two insurance runs proved vital when Coalfield started the seventh by boarding Megan Ratcliffe and Natalie Lane — who went yard in the first inning with a solo shot to left center — on base hits. Diana Ratcliffe followed with a two-run single to cut the lead to 7-5.
But second base proved to be Coalfield's undoing. First, Bridges stepped up from her short stop position to turn a would-be error into a force-out when she snagged a loose ball a fraction of a second before Diana Ratcliffe's foot touched the bag.
With Coalfield pleading its case to the field umpires, Bridges turned in a nearly identical play to force out Morgan Meredith at second.
Finally, Neal snagged a Montana Pflug ground ball and pitched it to McCartt, who forced out Raylea Foster at second to end the game.
The Lady Indians will face top-seeded — and unbeaten — Oliver Springs in Thursday's championship game, which is slated for a 5:30 p.m. start at Bear Creek. The Bobcats defeated Oneida 7-0 on Tuesday. In three appearances against Oliver Springs this season, Oneida has not scored.
The Lady Indians must beat Oliver Springs twice on Thursday to win the championship. If a second game is needed, it will start at 7:30 p.m.
Regardless of Thursday's outcome, Oneida will be in action Monday in the Region 2-A semifinals. The Lady Indians last made the region tournament in 2011.