BILOXI - The St. Patrick's softball team battled back in the Class 3A playoffs Wednesday night to avoid a disappointing end to their season .
The Lady Irish (28-2) rebounded from a 3-1 game one loss on Tuesday to top Southeast Lauderdale 9-8 and 11-1 Wednesday to clinch a spot in the Class 3A South State series against Philadelphia.
St. Patrick had to to rally late to survive game two, but the Lady Irish put up a five-spot in the first inning of game three and cruised to a five-inning win behind a strong pitching performance by sophomore Anna D'Aquilla.
"They've got a lot of fight in them," St. Patrick coach Tommy Castanedo said of his team. "They're never going to quit. It seems like when they get pushed in a corner, they fight a little harder. During the season, we play 5A and 6A teams to prepare us for games like this. Southeast is a good ball club."
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St. Patrick (28-2) will play Philadelphia (22-3) in Class 3A South State with a trip to the state title series on the line. The series will start Friday or Saturday.
Philadelphia is the team that ended St. Patrick's season in the playoffs last season.
"They're the ones that put us out last year," senior left fielder Elizabeth Zorich said. "We're ready to say the least. We're ready to give them our best because we know they're going to give us their best."
Zorich had a huge day at the plate Wednesday going a combined 5-for-7 with five runs scored and a two-run home run in game two.
St. Patrick poured on the offense in the second game, totaling 12 hits in the night cap.
"We finally made adjustments," Zorich said. "In (game one), we didn't do the things we know how to do. The last two games, we went in there and did what we had to do. (Southeast pitcher Lauren Yeager) got tired and got the ball up. That's history."
Zorich has a hit in every game this season for a 30-game hitting streak.
Southeast Lauderdale's win on Tuesday forced the Lady Irish to win back-to-back games Wednesday to keep their season alive. It was far from easy in the series for Sun Herald No. 1 St. Patrick, which lost only one game in the regular season to Class 6A Oak Grove.
"We hadn't been swinging the bat very well," Castanedo said. "Hopefully, we'll start swinging it. Their pitcher (Yeager) has a good drop ball and we beat it into the ground. They're tired. We're tired."
Southeast Lauderdale had a pair of solo home runs in game two from talented shortstop Nancy Williams, leading off the first with a homer to left center and leading off the third with a homer to right center.
Even with the two homers by Williams, St. Patrick led 5-3 headed into the fourth inning.
Southeast tied the game at 5-5 in the top of the fourth, but St. Patrick regained the lead at 6-5 in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Zorich.
Southeast scored two more runs in the fifth and tacked on another run in the sixth to grab an 8-5 lead.
The Lady Irish entered the bottom of the sixth with plenty of work to do, trailing 8-6.
The first three St. Patrick batters reached to start the inning. Raven Blackwell reached on an error, Zorich reached on a bunt single and Emma Rae Castanedo was allowed to take first on a fielder's choice.
Morgan McCrea came up with a two-run double to tie the game at 8-8. Two batters later, Marissa Hanley pushed Castanedo across home plate on a groundout to the pitcher for the winning run.
D'Aquilla, who started game two, picked up the win despite being replaced by Morgan Redmond to start the fifth. D'Aquilla returned to the game with two out in the sixth and retired four of the last five batters she faced.
D'Aquilla (19-2) kept rolling in game two, limiting Southeast to four hits in five innings to get the win. She struck out two and walked none in the second game.
"Anna's a fighter," Castanedo said. "She's going to throw her pitches. You hit it or not. She's not going to overpower you, but she's going to spin it. She pitched better when she was tired than in the first game."
McCrea was a combined 5-for-7 for five RBIs to help pace the Lady Irish at the plate.