AKRON — Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy head coach Jeff Johnson has been coaching softball longer than his players have been alive.
The veteran skipper has nearly had to wait that long to get back to a district final.
Johnson said he believes the Royals haven’t been back to the district final since 2004 — but the Royals will get another shot on Thursday.
CVCA advanced to the Division II Akron district final, thanks to a 5-2 win over top-seeded Aurora Tuesday at Firestone Stadium.
The Royals improved to 14-12 and are scheduled play Crestwood Thursday at 6 p.m. in a district final. The Greenmen finished their season at 15-8.
While he was all smiles after the win, Johnson refused to to say his team was the underdog.
"Our kids are just having fun and playing really loose," he said. "Perhaps nobody outside felt like we could do this. We felt like we could do this."
Aurora head coach Sam Petrash could only rue his team’s missed opportunities.
"We try to do too many things at times," he said. "When we’ve lost this year, it has been when we haven’t be able to do the little things. We didn’t do the little things [Tuesday]."
Petrash pointed to the bottom of the second inning as a key sequence. After catcher Aleese Angelo led off with a double and pitcher Rachael Dudziak put down a sacrifice bunt, Aurora 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, Royals 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 marked her 44th hit of the season, which is a new CVCA single-season record.
"She has 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 while striking out seven.
"She gave us a chance to win the game," Johnson said.
"Their pitcher was spotting the ball good," Petrash said. "We tried to do too 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. Mackenzie 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.
However, despite Angelo following the homer with a double, the Greenmen 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 run-scoring single to make it 5-1.
Aurora was finally able to string a few hits together in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Angelo led off the inning with her third double of the game. After a pair of pop outs, left fielder Ariane Ugran singled and Krafcik came through with an RBI single.
The Greenmen had the tying run at the plate, but Curcio struck out Kayla Ring to end the game.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC.