WESTPHALIA, Mo. - For the second straight game, Fatima senior Sammey Bunch sent a solo home run over a left-field fence to break a scoreless tie in a playoff game.
But if the Lady Comets wanted to return to the Final Four with a win Saturday against Centralia, they were going to need more than that.
They got it, rallying off five consecutive hits in the third inning and drawing four walks in the fourth. And with Macy Berhorst continuing her string of lights-out pitching, Fatima earned a chance to defend its Class 2 title in Springfield with a 4-1 quarterfinal victory.
"The one-run lead against Centralia still kind of worries me," Fatima coach Dana Scheppers said. "They've got powerful bats in their lineup, so when we got a few more in that inning, I felt a little more comfortable. But you still can't feel too comfortable, as we've seen in the past."
The Lady Panthers threatened throughout, but Berhorst minimized the damage done by their eight hits, stranding seven runners from the second through fifth innings - four in scoring position.
"Macy has done very well with that this year," Scheppers said. "She has gotten out of so many jams."
Her biggest was in the fifth, when two singles and a steal gave Centralia runners at the corners with one out. Scheppers came out to the mound, and Berhorst responded by striking out the next two batters.
"She just said, "Nobody better,'" Berhorst said. "That's what she always tells me is, "Nobody better,' and it kind of gives you a boost of confidence and makes you know that you can really do it."
Centralia looked poised to break through in the third inning when Lexi Armontrout crushed a double to deep center field, and Nicole Duncan drew a four-pitch walk. But Berhorst got a strikeout with a changeup, and two batters later the Lady Comets were ahead.
"I think when runners are on base I lock down more and just know that I've got to get the ball in play so that my defense can work," Berhorst said. "That's just all I've been doing."
Bunch stepped to the plate in the bottom half of the third having lined out hard to first in the first inning. As she did Wednesday in Fatima's sectional win at Blair Oaks, Bunch sent the third pitch of the at-bat over the fence in left center. The solo shot brought the Fatima fans out of their seats and the Fatima bats out of their slumber.
"It was just the fire that we needed to get everything going and score our runs," Bunch said.
Erin Eichholz, Berhorst, Raegan Huhn and Erica Fick followed with consecutive singles to give the Lady Comets a 3-0 lead. Fick's infield hit scored Eichholz, whose hit was also of the infield variety, and Berhorst.
After Berhorst stranded a runner at third in the top of the fourth, Katelyn Plassmeyer, Bunch and Eichholz were walked in a span of 14 pitches to load the bases.
Bunch's walk was her first of two on the day, the second intentional, and it was apparent the Lady Panthers had no intention of giving her another chance to beat them with the bat.
"You're looking at the top hitter in the state right now," Scheppers said of Bunch. "Do you pitch to her, do you not?"
Plassmeyer was forced out at home on a groundout, but a four-pitch walk to Fick with two outs brought Bunch home, giving Fatima a four-run cushion.
"It was really important for us to just relax and get a strike and not chase balls in the dirt," Bunch said.
Centralia's lone run came in the seventh, on singles from Shayla Ralphs and Armontrout. But Berhorst's sixth strikeout of the game punched Fatima's ticket to Springfield.
"This team wanted it from Day 1," Scheppers said. "Nobody believed that they would be here after losing six seniors last year, and they have proved a lot of people wrong."
As a sophomore, Berhorst has been a key part in replacing those seniors.
"Nobody believed we could do it," she said. "We're just showing everybody that we still have it and we're fighting back and coming back again. It's crazy."
The Lady Comets (21-9) will play Iberia (24-3) at 1 p.m. Friday at the Killian Softball Complex.
Follow News Tribune sports reporter Brandon Foster (@BFoster91) on Twitter for updates during games.