The last out is always the hardest to get at the state softball tournament.
Just ask Paige Lowary.
The Dallas Center-Grimes star pitcher went from throwing a no-hitter to facing a serious jam in a Class 4A semifinal on Thursday, but the left-hander buckled down and put the finishing touches on a 2-0 victory over Washington on Diamond 2 at Rogers Park.
The Fillies (35-5), who settled for third place here a year ago, will now play for a championship on Diamond 1 Friday against Indianola. First pitch is set for 4:45 p.m.
Lowary was literally unhittable through the first six-plus innings yesterday, holding the Demons (32-9) to a single walk until there were two outs in the final frame.
That's when things got interesting.
Dallas Center-Grimes 2,
Washington 000 000 0 - 0 2 3
DC-Grimes 002 000 x - 2 5 0
Ashley Rausch (L, 20-5; 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K) and Kaitlin Buchholz; Paige Lowary (W, 31-3; 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 13 K) and Paige Shanno. LOB-Washington 3, DC-G 5. 2B-DC-G: Tabitha Taylor. SB-DC-G: Karen Eilers.
Kaitlin Buccholz recorded an infield single for Washington to end the no-hit bid, and Lauren Vittetoe followed with a single of her own. Lowary then walked Joni Erwin, and suddenly, the tying run was in scoring position.
DC-G head coach Steve Schlafke took a time out to calm the nerves of Lowary and her teammates.
''She was in such a groove, but (an opponent) in the state semifinals isn't going to go down without a fight,'' Schlafke said. ''I just wanted to slow things down a little and get the kids back on track. There was no need to panic at that point, but the pressure and intensity of the moment can sometimes become bigger mentally than it needs to be.''
Lowary (31-3) responded by striking out opposing pitcher Ashley Rausch - her 13th K of the contest - with the bases loaded and the shutout still in tact.
''I just had to bear down and get through it,'' Lowary said. ''We all had to kind of take a deep breath and just relax a little. The seventh inning is always the hardest to get through, because it's a now-or-never spot for the team you're (trying to eliminate).''
Both of the Fillies' runs came in the third inning, when Jackie Payton scored on an error and Tabitha Taylor delivered an RBI double. Lowary and her flawless defense did the rest.
''You just want to win and advance at this point,'' Schlafke said. ''I thought we had a good gameplan coming in, and Paige was hitting her spots. Our offense did just enough.''
Rausch (20-5) scattered five hits, walking one and striking out two.
Neither Schlafke or Lowary seemed particularly surprised by Indianola's upset of top-rated defending champion Clear Creek-Amana in the other 4A semifinal.
''At first you are kind of relieved that (it's not CC-A), but we've seen Indianola already (during the regular season) and they're a great team,'' Lowary said. ''It's going to be tough. That goes without saying though (given it's the final round).''
''They're in the CIML and facing elite competition night in and night out,'' Schlafke said. ''That prepared them well for (state). They've seen it all, and they have a lot of talent.
''We're excited for the opportunity; you have to make the most of it, because you never know when you'll get another one like it.''