Central High School's softball team relies on strong pitching and defense to squeak out low-scoring games.
Kelly has scored 11 runs in its last two playoff games and has banged out 15 hits.
The two teams have taken different routes, but both will be at the same place when the state quarterfinals begin today. Kelly will face Blair Oaks at noon at the Kirkwood Athletics Association Complex, and Central plays Lindbergh at 2 p.m. at Kirkwood.
The Tigers will make their first quarterfinal appearance under coach Amy Blattel. Central lost three consecutive sectional games prior to a 1-0 win over Oakville on Wednesday.
"Our seniors want to get to the big dance," Blattel said, "and they deserve to go."
Central has received three impressive starts from senior ace Megan McDonald. McDonald struck out 28 batters in three playoff starts and has walked three.
"Our defense is playing solid, and Megan McDonald is throwing well," Blattel said.
Today's game will be the second meeting this season for Central and Lindbergh. Central defeated the Flyers 5-3 in an early-season tournament, also at the Kirkwood Athletics Association Complex.
In the first meeting between the two teams both teams threw their No. 2 pitchers. Today's pitching matchup likely will feature Cental's McDonald (13-5, 150 strikeouts) against Lindbergh's Sarah Dooley (16-5, 224 strikeouts).
Kelly's last trip to the quarterfinals was in 2000. The Hawks started the state playoffs that year with a rout, then won a quarterfinal game 3-1 over Clopton before losing a 2-1 semifinal game to Lawson.
Kelly's opponent today, Blair Oaks, has reached the semifinals each of the past three years and has been state runnerup the last two years.
"Sometimes this is the hardest game," Kelly coach Rhonda Evans said. "Getting over the hurdle when you're one game away from state."
Kelly ace Whitney Beggs picked up wins in both the district finals and the sectional round. Beggs struck out seven and allowed two hits against Elsberry in a 6-0 sectional win.
While Kelly's pitching has been strong in the playoff, the defense has struggled at times. In their sectional win the Hawks committed four errors.
"That's one thing they know they need to focus on," Evans said.
Kelly's recent success in the state playoffs comes a boost, Evans said. The Hawks feature a team made up primarily of upperclassmen, including four seniors.
"My seniors were freshmen the last time we went to state," Evans said, "so they know what it's like."
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