As Marian head coach Joe DeAngelo was filling out his lineup card before Tuesday afternoon's District 11 Class A quarterfinal round game against Nativity, he knew his team would be dealing with adversity.
Starting center fielder Abby Burkhardt was on crutches and starting shortstop Ashley Donlin was out sick. If that wasn't enough to deal with, courtesy runner Gabby Cann was unavailable after finger surgery and starting third baseman Shannon Skotek was just cleared following a knee injury.
After some major lineup reshuffling, DeAngelo then turned things over to his "Knight" in shining armor, who helped lead the Fillies to a 5-3 victory over the Golden Girls. The win advances fourth-seeded Marian to Thursday night's District semifinal with top-seeded Williams Valley at Blue Mountain's Patton Field at 7 p.m.
It was Marian's third straight victory over Nativity this season, in which they have outscored the Golden Girls by a score of 25-7.
"Nativity was playing well at the end of the year so we figured it would be a little closer than the first two times we played them," stated DeAngelo. "We've played a lot of girls throughout the course of the year, and even though it wasn't an ideal situation to come into Districts down a few starters and others at less than full strength, we felt confident in the girls we put in to replace them."
DeAngelo also had total confidence in starting pitcher Kayla Knight.
Knight reached base in all four of her plate appearances, with two doubles, three runs scored and an RBI. In addition, the senior struck out seven and stranded six Golden Girls in scoring position to pick up the win.
"Kayla's not only a team leader but she's very consistent," added DeAngelo. "She doesn't usually get flustered and she has a good demeanor about her. She's a total all-around player who gives her heart and soul every time she's out on that field."
After Nativity left runners at second and third base to open the first inning, Marian took the lead in the bottom half of the frame when Alexa Nemeth's single to center scored Knight for the game's first run.
Knight scored again in the third inning on an Alexa Nemeth double to center. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Knight scored her team's third run on a throwing error and the Fillies built a 4-1 lead when Gabby Green's sacrifice fly plated Katie Donovan.
However, Nativity responded in the top of the sixth when Emily Kaledas' double to left-center scored Emily Grube and Grace Kimmel to cut the deficit to 4-3.
The Golden Girls had runners stationed at second and third with no outs, but failed to capitalize. Samantha Pogash grounded to shortstop but Lindsay Nemeth gunned down Kaledas at the plate. Nemeth (filling in for Ashley Donlin) then chased down a Cassidy Donlin pop out for the second out before Knight extinguished the threat by striking out Kuperavage.
"One of the things we've emphasized from day one was preventing the big inning," added DeAngelo. "During the course of a game, there will be threats and base runners. Nativity had the momentum there after cutting the lead to one, but our girls hung though and fought their way through it."
Marian added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning when Knight's double to left scored Skotek, but Knight was shaken up on the play as she tried to advance to third.
"I previously fractured my pelvis, so sliding into third base head first and taking that impact definitely hurt," said Knight, who stayed in to pitch the top of the seventh. "I knew I had to get up and shake it off for the sake of myself and for the sake of the team. None of us want the season to end, we want to keep playing."
Marian earns the right to keep playing when they face a Williams Valley squad they upset earlier in the year 1-0.
Nativity 010 002 0 - 3 7 1
Marian 101 021 x - 5 8 1
Grube and Albon; Knight and Hill. W - Knight. L - Grube.