NEW PORT RICHEY -
The combination of clutch pitching and heads-up baserunning keyed Central's 4-2 semifinal win over River Ridge Tuesday night, and secured the Bears' first postseason berth since 2002.
Central advanced to Thursday night's Class 5A, District 7 championship game at Ridgewood High to take on Wednesday's Land O' Lakes-Wesley Chapel winner.
"We've had to fight through so much adversity this season and I want to credit the seniors for keeping everything in line and being leaders," Central Head Coach Mike Ellison said of his team's rollercoaster season and upcoming trip to the playoffs.
The game's turning point came in the bottom of the fifth. With the score knotted at 2-2, Central loaded the base paths and left fielder Sal Defranco fell behind 0-2 with two outs.
To the Bears' good fortune, River Ridge reliever Kenny Toce proceeded to consecutively deliver a wild pitch and passed ball that allowed Danny Allegrone and Mike Ogren to cross the plate.
Ogren, 3-for-3 at the plate with two doubles, had his number called quickly to make the lead stick from the mound. The senior tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the victory.
Ogren relieved sophomore starter J.T. Simpson, who tossed a strong 4 1/3 innings. The two combined to strand eight River Ridge baserunners over the last four frames.
The Central offense banged out nine hits and started five out of six innings with hard-hit, leadoff knocks.
"We hit the ball well tonight," Ellison said. "And our pitchers, until the fifth inning, threw the ball real well."
Ogren snaked himself out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fifth, but then struck out Mario Custodio and got Toce to pop-up to first.
CENTRAL 4, RIVER RIDGE 2 123 456 7 R H E RR000 200 0 -- 2 6 0 CEN020 020 0 -- 4 9 0