Since Philipsburg-Osceola knocked her out of the game in the fourth inning of the District 6 Class AA championship, Central pitcher Kylie Gunnett has been on a mission.
"I just feel I have to prove myself," Gunnett said. "That game wasn't my best game, and I have to get it done for the seniors."
The junior has certainly been doing that.
While Central's hitters have been getting most of the attention in the last two PIAA state playoff games, Gunnett has fired a three-hitter in a first-round romp over Cranberry and a four-hitter while battling control issues that she fought her way out of in a 4-2 win over Deer Lakes last Friday.
"I don't think she's thrown her best game yet," Central coach Dale Walters said. "She didn't have great control on Friday, but she was a bulldog. She never gave in to the hitters. She was able to pitch through some situations and did a great job.
"I think she is pitching with more of an urgency. She knows you lose one and you're done. She has stepped up for her teammates. They're counting on her more than anybody on the field. Her pitches have been working, and she has that bulldog mentality."
Gunnett will look to keep that mentality when the 19-6 Lady Dragons take on 21-1 Neshannock at 2 p.m. today at St. Francis University in the state semifinals.
The Lancers, who finished third in the District 7 playoffs, are a very good hitting team that had 11 hits off of Kate Burge in the 5-3, eight-inning win over P-O in the first round.
Rayanna Furst, a speedy left-handed leadoff hitter, went 3-for-5 against P-O and had the big hit - a two-run double to left-center field in the eighth inning. She caught P-O's attention early on when she beat out a slap hit.
"She has good speed and is very good at her craft," said Walters, who got a scouting report from P-O coach Jim Gonder. "It's one of those things if we defend [the slap] early, it can change the complexion of the game, and we have a shot. If we don't, it could be a long game for us."
Walters said his team worked on some different things in practice on Sunday to get ready for the slap and Neshannock's speed.
Gunnett enters the game with all of Central's decisions, and she has 105 strikeouts, 57 walks and a 1.89 earned run average.
"I just have to stay confident and mix it up," Gunnett said. "I completely trust the defense behind me."
"She got through the problems, and she's a strong pitcher," said fleet-footed center fielder Kate Blattenberger, who graduated last Tuesday. "She knows we'll make plays behind her."
Central is coming off of a three-home run game against Deer Lakes, including two from the recently graduated Kate Blattenberger. The No. 5 hitter is batting .525 and has seven home runs and 35 RBIs.
"Kate has so much athletic ability," Walters said, "and she likes the big stage."
"I'm just trying to whatever I can do to help the team win," Blattenberger said.
So, Lancers pitcher Amanda Furst will have her hands full as she attempts to get the middle of the Central lineup out. She only had two strikeouts while giving up six hits and three walks against P-O.
"What I've heard is she's hittable," Walters said. "We've got to hit. Nobody ever won a game with no runs. Hitting is our strength, and I think we'll be ready."
While District 6 teams are used to making runs to the the state title game in Class AA, it's usually either P-O or Bald Eagle Area doing the running. Central goes into uncharted waters with every win in the state playoffs, where there is little known of their opponents.
"We're really looking forward to the game," Walters said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the school. I feel better because we don't know our opponents. The crowds aren't big, and we just have to show up and play. It's kind of like playing travel ball."
"I think we like it a lot," Gunnett said. "We don't psych ourselves out. Just go out there and play. It will definitely be exciting, and the atmosphere will be great."
The Lady Dragons did a lot of joking around and laughing in their first state playoff game, and Walters is hoping they're just as loose for today's game.
"It's just another game," he said. "The sun is going to shine whether we win or lose."
"I'm really excited," Blattenberger said. "I think it will be a good game because we've played there before. I think it will come down to who makes an important error".