By Rob Kiser
Savannah Nelson wasn’t expecting to play the role of hero.
But the smile on her face told you she had no complaints.
The Troy sophomore left fielder hit two home runs — the second in the seventh inning to break a 1-1 tie — and give the Trojans a 2-1 victory over Piqua.
“I always get excited when I hit a home run,” Nelson, who has six home runs now, said. “Especially against Piqua, because they are our rival — and it was a tournament game.”
Troy advances to the sectional final at 5 p.m. Monday at Coy Middle School in Beavercreek, with second seed Northmont the likely opponent.
“I can’t even tell you the last time we went to the sectional finals,” Troy coach Dan Cain — in the first year of his second stint with the Trojans — said. “That is for somebody else to figure out.”
While Troy improved to 15-12, Piqua had its season end at 21-6.
It was the final game for Megan Anderson, Kyla Blankenship and Reynna Lavey.
“We have had a great year,” Piqua coach Rick Claprood said. “I feel good about what the kids were able to accomplish. Now, we have to build on this for next year.”
Both Natalie Henson of Troy and Kyla Blankenship of Piqua were locked up in a pitcher’s duel all game.
“I thought Natalie (Henson) threw great,” Cain said. “You have to give Kyla (Blankenship) credit. We had some girls that hit her the last game (a 12-10 Troy win), and they didn’t hit her today. Maybe, she just had better movement today.”
Both teams missed an opportunity in the first.
Camryn Moeller had a leadoff double in the first for Troy and was on third with no outs. But Blankenship finished the inning by striking out the 3-4 hitters to start a string of seven straight strikeouts.
“I had confidence in my hitters,” Cain said. “Maybe we should have tried moving runners and tried a squeeze in that situation.”
Anderson started Piqua’s first with a double and was on third with one out, but Henson got a popout and a ground out.
The game remained scoreless until the fourth when Nelson came to the plate with two out and launched the ball over the left-field fence.
“That wasn’t a good pitch to hit,” Cain said. “It was inside and she just muscled that thing over the fence.”
Piqua was able to tie the game in the home fourth, thanks to the base running of Morgan Ford.
After Lavey singled, Ford ran for her. She went to second a wild pitch, third on Kyla Blankenship’s sacrifice and scored on a wild pitch.
Piqua had a golden opportunity in the fifth after a leadoff double by Mariah Blankenship.
Rayna Brownlee sacrificed her to third, but she held at third on Anderson’s grounder and Henson got a fly out to end it.
It was still 1-1 in the seventh when Nelson came to bat with one out.
She drove another pitch over the left field fence for the game-winner.
“I wasn’t thinking out it (another home run) at all,” Nelson said. “I just wanted to hit the ball hard somewhere. The first one (homer) was an inside pitch. The second one was across the plate.”
In the home seventh, Piqua fittingly hit three straight fly balls to Nelson to end it.
“I know,” she said with a laugh.
Cain said it was a perfect ending.
“I thought that was great that they hit three straight fly balls to her,” Cain said. “Piqua is a good team. I never felt comfortable the whole game.”
Both pitchers pitched three-hitters.
Kyla Blankenship struck out nine, while Henson struck out two, hit a batter and walked one.
Piqua left a runner on in five of the seven innings.
“Kyla (Blankenship) pitched a great game,” Claprood said. “But, I wanted to throw changeups to her (Savannah Nelson) and we just never got to it. Live and learn. We have hit the ball all year. This is one of those games where we didn’t and it came back to hurt us.”
Troy now gets ready for a sectional final.
“Northmont has two games to go, but it is probably going to be them,” Cain said. “The last time we played them it was 2-1 and we gave up two runs in the seventh. If we don’t give up those two runs, we are right in the game.”
Especially with Nelson swinging the bat.