SOLON — All season long, Jeff Kurtz has drilled his players to focus on one pitch, one at bat and one play at a time.
On Wednesday, the veteran Hudson head softball coach took a brief break from such tunnel vision.
The Explorers have a chance to win their first district title in eight years.
Top-seeded Hudson advanced to the Solon Division I district final after earning a 2-0 victory over fourth-seeded Boardman Wednesday at Roxbury Elementary.
With the win, the Explorers, who played in their first district semifinal game in three years, are scheduled to play second-seeded Solon in Thursday’s district final. First pitch is set for 4:30 p.m.
Hudson (19-1) will make its first appearance in a district final since 2011 when it captured the championship in Akron.
When it comes to the Explorers, focusing on one play and then moving on to the next one has been a highly successful approach throughout the spring.
On Wednesday, though, Kurtz took a moment to appreciate his team’s latest achievement.
"I’m happy for the kids," he said. "They’ve worked really hard. They’ve done what we’ve asked them to do. [Wednesday] was another example of them coming out and doing what they needed to do."
It certainly doesn’t hurt having a once-in-a-generation talent like Maddie Roukey.
The sophomore right-hander, who had been ill in recent weeks, felt more like herself.
As a result, the Spartans (17-8) didn’t have much of a chance.
Roukey (10-1) allowed just two hits and finished with nine strikeouts and two walks in seven innings of work. She retired the last five Boardman batters in order.
"It’s so exciting," Roukey said. "We were all super excited for this game. We’re ready to go out and play our best [Thursday]."
Hudson needed some heads-up baserunning and stellar defense to provide the support its star pitcher needed.
Not surprisingly, Roukey did some of the work herself.
With one out and a runner on first in the top of the first, Roukey ended the inning rather abruptly when she snared a hard-hit grounder by freshman shortstop Jenna Olexa.
After using her cat-like reflexes to get the ball, Roukey wound up starting a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.
The Explorers’ offense didn’t have a particularly easy time with the Spartans’ starting pitcher.
Freshman Madison Lester was just as stellar as her counterpart as Hudson had to use some creativity to score some runs.
The Explorers’ artistry began in the bottom of the third.
Freshman designated player Hannah McCray got things started when she smashed a double to the fence in center.
Lester got a strikeout and appeared to be on her way to getting out of the jam when she fielded a bunt off the bat of Hudson freshman center fielder Laurel Gomersal.
Lester took a peek at McCray, who was several feet away from third base, and then threw to first. But the speedy Gomersal beat the throw and McCray took off for home immediately after Lester let the ball go.
McCray ended up scoring without a throw.
"I initially told her to hold up," Kurtz said. "She stayed in behind her [Boardman freshman third baseman Karhryn O’horo] a little bit and as soon as she released the ball, she took off," Kurtz said. "I told her, ‘That’s good heads-up baserunning. She was one step away from that being a bit of a mistake."
The Explorers used some more bold baserunning to score a crucial insurance run in the sixth.
Freshman catcher Katie Carrillo led off the inning with a bloop single and found herself on second when Roukey followed with a bullet off Olexa’s glove after she tried to make a leaping catch.
Hudson’s lone senior on the team, third baseman Cami Madar, followed with a deep fly ball that was caught near the fence by senior center fielder Venessa Roush.
But Roush stumbled after she made the catch. As a result, Carrillo, who turned on the jets as soon as the catch was made, wound up scoring from second.
"She’s a good baserunner," Kurtz said of Carrillo. "When they called a timeout to talk to the pitcher, I asked her, ‘Do you want me to put a courtesy runner in?’ She said, ‘No, I’m OK.’ I said, ‘If you’re OK, we’ll leave you out there.’ I knew she didn’t want to come out."
Carrillo also showed off her cannon of a right arm to prevent a run.
With runners on first and third and one out in the fifth, Carrillo gunned down freshman courtesy runner Nadia Rawhneh, who was leaning a bit too far from third base on a bunt by senior left fielder Ashley Saxton.
Roukey struck out the next batter to escape the jam unscathed.
"She’s a gamer," Kurtz said of Carrillo. "She made a great play on the bunt. We worked on a lot of bunt coverages [Tuesday] in practice. She’s getting better everyday at learning how to take charge back there. That was a big-time play. She did exactly what she was supposed to do.
"That was a great defensive play. That was a big lift for us."
The Explorers finished with just five hits and they committed one error.
Nonetheless, Hudson did what it needed to do in its biggest game to date.
"We played a very solid game on both sides of the ball," Kurtz said. "The girls deserve a chance to play for a district championship."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.