MOORESVILLE--Senior Olivia Marshall took the initiative. Assisted by a couple of Mooresville teammates, she grabbed the water cooler and swooped in behind head coach Paul Kikta during the postgame huddle.
Kikta dodged the brunt of its contents, but he still got wet.
"He's a quick little guy," Marshall quipped.
"I have a pretty keen eye for it, but I was not ready for that one," Kikta said.
Not that he's complaining. This celebratory bath was warranted.
West No. 3 seed Mooresville (26-3) defeated No. 7 seed Hickory Ridge (18-7) 9-3 on Thursday in the 4A state quarterfinals, sending it to the region finals.
The Blue Devils have been knocking on the door of this program first. Two years ago, they lost to Richmond County in the quarterfinals 6-0. Last year, it was a two-run walk-off homer that doomed them in a 2-1 quarterfinals loss at South Caldwell.
No disappointment this time.
"It's puzzle pieces," Marshall said. "Every year we were getting closer to putting it together."
HOW IT HAPPENED
Mooresville led 2-0 after the second inning. Freshman Ellie Goins crushed a ball over the fence in left field during that frame. It was her 10th home run of the season. Marshall tripled, and Macy Martin drove her in on a sacrifice fly.
The Ragin' Bulls equalized in the fourth thanks to Ally Todaro's two-run homer off Kali Morton.
Mooresville's junior pitcher shook it off.
"I missed my spot," she said. "I knew it right away.
"But my team put up all those runs," Morton added with a smile as she glanced back at the scoreboard.
Morton fanned Rachel Herzig for her 150th strikeout of the season in the top of the fifth. That was the second out. Payton Lautz singled before Morton struck out Jaylyn Gilliam to send the game into the bottom half of the inning still tied at 2.
"She responded immediately," Kikta said when asked about Morton's poise after surrendering her first home run this spring. "She pitched a whale of game."
The floodgates opened in the bottom of the fifth. The Blue Devils batted around their lineup, scoring five runs to pull ahead for good, 7-2. Mariah Pearson and Marshall recorded RBI singles. Caitlin Mann drove in a pair with her single, and Goins added a sacrifice fly.
Todaro homered again in the sixth to get one of those runs back for Hickory Ridge, but Morton retired five of the last six batters she faced.
Hailey Lane gave Mooresville some insurance in the bottom of the sixth with her two-run double to the right-center gap.
Mann finished 2 for 4 with a triple and two RBIs. Pearson was also 2 for 4. Marshall tripled as part of a 2-for-3 outing.
Goins' homer accounted for one of her two RBIs, and Cassidy Amon went 2 for 2.
Morton went the distance for the victory in the pitcher's circle. She allowed three runs on four hits, issued no walks and struck out seven.
Brittany Snyder was the losing pitcher. She gave up nine runs on 10 hits and four walks. She struck out two.
HOME, SWEET HOME
The two previous quarterfinals appearances that ended in losses were road games for Mooresville.
"We finally got an elite game at home," Kikta said. "We had a good crowd that was behind us. That was key."
Friendly confines will be theirs once more--twice if needed.
The Blue Devils open the best-of-3 4A West region finals series at home next week with the date and time still to be determined. Two wins separate them from a trip to Raleigh for the 4A state championship series.
"I'm excited," Morton said. "I want us to go all the way. I'm ready."
Mooresville's next opponent will be either No. 5 South Caldwell (20-3) or No. 9 Providence (18-5). The winner of that quarterfinal matchup Friday will host Game 2 of the region finals. Game 3, if necessary, would be back at Mooresville.
"I think this year might be the year," Marshall said. "We just need to worry about ourselves. That's the main thing."