Thomas Jefferson had weathered its share of close finishes on an unexpected run to the WPIAL Class AAA softball championship, so there was no other possible ending for what happened Thursday night.
The Jaguars were locked in a lengthy deadlock with Mars, one that extended into the ninth inning of what is usually a seven-inning game. They had been in that position before, winning their first three playoff games by a combined four runs, so coach Heidi Karcher felt it was right to deliver a brief message.
"We're going to play the game we know how to play -- field the ball, catch the ball, hit the ball," she said. "I knew we were going to be able to do that. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel of softball here. We're just trying to play our game."
With a two-run ninth, Thomas Jefferson played its game all the way to a championship with a 5-3 victory against Mars at California University's Lilley Field for the first WPIAL softball title in school history.
After finishing the regular season 11-6, the win capped a streak that saw the Jaguars (15-6) knock off the first and fourth seeds on the way to a first-place finish few, if any, saw coming three weeks ago.
"I can't even put into words what I feel right now," Karcher said. "We worked so hard for this, and the girls came through. They come through all the time, they never give up and they battled until the end every single time."
Playing a remarkably similar opponent in the Fightin' Planets (12-5) -- a team that reached the championship game by narrowly beating higher-seeded teams -- Thomas Jefferson was unable to create any separation for much of the night. Each team scored a run in the first and two in the third.
For the next five innings, however, neither team scored despite routinely being in a position to do so as evidenced by a combined 19 runners left on base. Twelve of those came from Mars
"It was just timing," Mars coach Michele Goodworth said. "Timing didn't go our way today."
That timing issue appeared to plague the Jaguars, too, at least until the ninth.
Lacie Lautner flew out to right field, prompting Bayli Moon to tag up and head for third. A Mars outfielder attempted to throw Moon out, but as the Thomas Jefferson sophomore slid into the base, the ball bounced off her foot and went awry, allowing her to score the deciding run.
Kyla Prickett drove home the final run later in the inning to conclude a night in which she had three RBIs, including a two-run homer in the third.
"It was never a doubt, honestly," Prickett said. "I knew we would be able to pull it together. That's just what we do."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.