And like it has happened other times for Clay this season, the risk paid off - in the greatest of ways.
Adams' calculated sprint from third resulted in the Lady Panthers' second run of the fifth inning against Crestline in the Division IV Regional Championship on Saturday.
Two innings, one home run and some masterful pitching and defense later, Clay punched its ticket to Ashland and the Division IV State Tournament with a 4-0 victory over the Lady Bulldogs.
The Lady Panthers will return to Brookside Park after more than a 20-year hiatus. Clay went to state four years in a row in the 1980s, when Ruby was a player. She said making it there as a coach for the first time should be just as memorable.
“They're just as sweet,” said Ruby. “I want to go win one as a coach. I won some (as player) for our team. I can't say one over the other. I can say I'm just as proud both ways.”
Clay is the second SOC I team to head to Brookside Park in the last three years and the third team from Scioto County in four years. Symmes Valley, which defeated Crestline 4-1 in 2005 in the regional final, and Wheelersburg in 2004 in Division III, graced the state tournament. Both teams made it all the way to the state championship game.
The Lady Panthers will definitely be the unknown factor among the four teams in Ashland. The other three, Convoy Crestview, Dalton and North Lewisburg Triad all played among the trees at Brookside last year. That, however, shouldn't affect the Lady Panthers, who will face Triad on Friday, said Adams and pitcher Cami Groves. Clay has been been under the radar all season, but has risen to the challenge when it was necessary.
“We knew we had to play like a team and if you made a mistake to keep your head up,” Adams said. “Put the pressure on every inning and come out with a victory.”
“Don't underestimate us,” Groves said, succinctly.
Ruby was just pleased the team has matured rapidly during the last two weeks.
“These kids have stayed focused, we've fought together as a family and we've come together at the right time,” Ruby said. “There comes a time where they mold into a team and learn what it takes to make a team.”
That maturing showed throughout the game as the patience at the plate turned into hits and base runners. The Lady Panthers collected nine hits off Lady Bulldogs' pitcher Stacy Shumate and had 12 total base runners, six in scoring position.
Despite numerous scoring opportunities in the earlier innings, however, including having runners on second and third in the second inning, the Lady Panthers were locked into a defensive game reminiscent of the regional semifinal against Danville two days earlier. In that game, Clay had to wait until the eighth inning to score.
This time, the runs came sooner.
The Lady Panthers took advantage of two of Crestline's four errors to push two runs across in the fifth. A single by Dani Summers was followed by two hard hit balls by Adams and Groves that the Lady Bulldogs' defense couldn't field properly. Groves' hit scored Summers and put Adams on third. Tori Osborne then hit a shot right to the Crestline first baseman.
That's when Adams took off.
“(Coach Ruby) didn't tell me to go, but she didn't say not to, so I took it upon myself to get in there and luckily I was safe,” Adams said.
The junior slid right under the tag of the Crestline catcher, putting the Lady Panthers ahead 2-0 and the fans in blue into a frenzy.
“That's not the first time she's disobeyed me,” Ruby said about Adams, laughing.
That was enough for Groves and her defense as the sophomore, who said she didn't have her best stuff, scattered four hits, struck out eight and induced eight groundouts. At one point, Groves retired 12 batters in a row.
“At first, I didn't feel like I was as intense as in the Danville game, but I knew I had to be there for my team,” Groves said. “I had to do my job. They were doing theirs, so I had to do mine and pitch my game.”
Crestline, making its fifth straight appearance in the regional final, made one serious threat in the bottom of the fifth, getting a two-out single by Olivia Vogt and an infield single by Emily Hatfield, that took a high bounce over Groves' head, putting the tying runs on base.
Groves buckled down and struck out Elizabeth Weithman for the third time to end the threat.
“You come up against that class of a pitcher and you only have (eight) strikeouts, you can't complain,” said Crestline coach Ron Shumate. “I wish we could have hit a little more solid at times, but things sort of went their way. Things went their way today.”
Groves, however, wasn't done putting her mark on the game. She socked a two-run home run down the left field line to give Clay a 4-0 lead.
The sophomore was mobbed by her teammates at the plate, but the bigger celebration occurred when Summers collected the final out and the team erupted from the dugout.
“The advantage we have is that we haven't been mentioned anywhere all year,” Ruby said. “We've just gone about our business in little ol' southern Ohio. I think we surprised some people.”
Ruby's motto for the team the last few years has been, ‘Let's get this party started.' Next Friday, the Lady Panthers will be party crashers.
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 242.
Clay 000 020 2 - 4 9 0
Crestline 000 000 0 - 0 4 4
WP: Groves. LP: Shumate.
Clay - White 1-4, 2B; Summers 1-3, R; K. Adams 2-2, 2R; Groves 1-3, HR, 2 RBI; Osborne 1-3, RBI, Warnock 1-4, 2B.
Crestline - Vogt 2-3, 2B, Hatfield 1-3, Shumate 1-3.
Records - Clay 22-4. Crestline 21-10.