FOSTORIA - After the challenges she faced over the first six innings, it only seemed appropriate that right fielder Dani Baez got to set off the celebration.
Baez perfectly tracked and caught a rocket to the warning track off the bat of Hopewell-Loudon's Lauren Trumpler to secure Fremont St. Joe's 4-1 Division IV district title win Friday.
That out came after H-L batters sent two triples, a flare single and pop-up out her way over the first six innings and moments after Trumpler had crushed a foul ball deep the other way.
Gauging the wind, sun and Trumpler's power, Baez backed up to near the fence, a little more than 190 feet away from the plate, and waited.
"When she fouled it [down the left field line], I was like, 'I gotta get back.' If I didn't get back, I wouldn't have got that," Baez said. "I really positioned myself good, I would say.
"Good thing I had that hat on or I wouldn't have seen it," she said.
She only had to move a couple steps to her left while blocking the sun with her glove and hat before icing St. Joe's return to the regional tournament.
"It is a relief for me because there was a lot of expectation for us as a team, from where my predecessor left off, so I'm just proud that the seniors carried us through all of these last 21 games," first-year coach Isidro Bastidas said after St. Joe earned its 21st win in a row after starting the year 1-6.
"I got to give credit to the teams that beat us. They were good teams," he said. "A new coach, the girls did not know me; no excuse, but they did not know me, I did not know them, so it took us after that [first] week to settle down and get to know each other.
"Now, we know each other. We know if one makes an error, somebody else's going to pick her up," he said. "If one is not hitting, somebody else is going to hit."
The Chieftains (11-17) did their best early on to keep St. Joe batters from doing just that.
Hopewell-Loudon's outfielders alternated snares for outs with Ashley Burns reaching on a one-out error and Cassidy Frank's single up the middle in the first inning.
In the second, Jensen LeJeune drew a two-out walk for St. Joe and Baez followed with a flare over third, but H-L's C.J. Hohman corralled a liner in center to halt the threat.
Meanwhile, H-L took a 1-0 lead in the first when Racquel Hossler belted a two-out triple to right and scored on Aubrey Affholder's soft liner over third.
"I'm proud of the way, especially our defense, played today," H-L coach Sarah Haynes said. "That first inning, our defense, our outfield took away two [hits] that could have set them up a couple ahead, and that's something we'd been working extremely hard on and talking a lot about, about how defense needs to be a constant, and they really came out and played strong defense today.
"And I was impressed [that] our at-bats got better as the game went on. We talked a lot about that this year - each at-bat, you need to get better," she said. "(Bre Reardon is) a great pitcher with good movement - tough kid - and I thought at the end there we were starting to get the bat on the ball a little bit more. I wish we could have gotten it a little bit more, but I'm proud of what this team has done."
While H-L couldn't scratch out another run, the Crimson Streaks began to find their offensive rhythm against Affholder.
St. Joe made good on a second two-out rally in the third, when Frank, Brennan Reardon and Amanda Binder hit back-to-back-to-back doubles for a 2-1 lead.
The lead went to 3-1 in the fourth. LeJeune drew a leadoff walk, went to second on Baez's sac bunt and scored on Be Reardon's single to left.
The fourth run came in the fifth when Burns singled, went to second on Brennnan Reardon's walk and scored on Binder's single.
Hopewell-Loudon squandered other scoring chances.
Abby Park hit a one-out single in the fourth, but was caught in a rundown between first and second after Shelbi Sauber missed a bunt.
Sauber then reached on an error, but LeJeune grabbed Hohman's liner to center to end the inning.
Kelsey Coppus led off the sixth with a triple into the right field corner and should have scored moments later when Hossler flew out to deep left, but she left the bag too soon. St. Joe appealed and Coppus was called out.
Affholder followed with a soft line drive single over first and Abby Park drew a walk, but Sauber bounced into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
In the seventh, Makayla Wilson reached on a one-out error and went to second on a sac bunt, setting the stage for Baez's catch of Trumpler's blast.
"It was a great game, and that's what you should get at a district final game. It was a great defense, offense. It was exciting," Haynes said. "I just wish it could have ended a little bit more exciting for us and less exciting for them, but it was exciting."