PICKERINGTON -- It's back to Akron and familiar ground for the Strasburg softball program.
No. 2-ranked Strasburg turned a one-run lead into a laugher as the Tigers scored six times in the top of the fourth inning en route to a 13-2 win over No. 7 Portsmouth Notre Dame for a Division IV regional championship at Pickerington Central High School.
The Tigers improved to 26-4 and will play No. 5 Bradford in a state semifinal Friday at 10 a.m. at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Bradford upset No. 1 Russia 3-1 in another regional final.
Strasburg head coach Tommy Spidell Jr. said the Tigers are looking forward to the final four.
"We are going to enjoy this the rest of the weekend and get back to work," Spidell Jr. said. "We'll keep everybody sharp and ready to go. The kids are excited. They are expected to be there and we'll take that pressure all the time. I'm so proud of them."
Strasburg will be making its 17th trip to the state tournament and will be bidding for its eighth state title as a program.
The Tigers last appearance was in 2018 with a runner-up finish.
They also went in 2016 (2nd), 2013 (1st), 2012, 2011 (1st), 2010 (2nd), 2009 (1st), 2004, 2002 (2nd), 1995, 1992, 1991 (1st), 1990, 1989 (1st), 1988 (1st) and 1987 (1st).
The Tigers pounded out 12 hits against Titans pitching, including four home runs in support of winning sophomore pitcher Amelia Spidell.
Strasburg senior shortstop Emma Gilkerson led the Tigers offensive assault as she went 3 for 4 with a sacrifice fly, two doubles and her 38th career home run for four RBIs.
"It's going to be exciting," said Gilkerson, who is signed to play college baseball at Cleveland State University next season. "We're excited. We're a close-knit bunch. We have great chemistry and I think good things are going to happen."
Junior catcher Sydney Siblia also got into the hitting act as she slammed a big three-run home run in the six-run fourth, while junior Maggie Richards and junior Hayley Reiger also went deep.
"I'm very excited," said Siblia of her first state appearance. "I've dreamed of this my whole life."
Spidell scattered five hits, struck out eight and walked four in the complete-game win. She also helped her cause with a single and a run-scoring double that ignited the six-run fourth.
"Whenever we were younger, we used to play in these tournaments at Firestone Stadium in Akron," said Spidell. "We've played there and the field is familiar to all of us. We're ready to take another title back to Strasburg."
Strasburg took a 2-0 lead on a Gilkerson sacrifice fly and a Richards RBI single in the top of the third inning.
The Titans countered with a solo home run by freshman Maddie Entler in the bottom of the frame and appeared to have some momentum.
But the Tigers quickly took that momentum away as they took control in the top of the fourth by exploding for six runs to take an 8-1 lead off sophomore pitcher Gwen Sparks.
All six runs scored after two were out.
Spidell stroked an RBI double for a 3-1 lead to open the floodgates.
"I honestly was just trying to get the bat on the ball," the younger Spidell admitted. "I was just happy to get it out there."
After a walk to Reiger, Gilkerson blooped another double that the Titan second baseman almost made a great play on to end the inning.
However, the ball went in and out of the glove as she made a sliding play which allowed two runners to score and increased the Strasburg lead to 5-1.
After an intentional walk to Richards, Sibila stepped up and blasted a three-run shot over the left centerfield fence to give Strasburg an 8-1 lead and took the wind out the Titans sails.
"That was huge," said Spidell. "Walking Maggie to get to Sydney and she made them pay."
"It took off from there," added Spidell of his daughter's clutch two-out hit. "Having girls that can hit home runs up and down the lineup helps."
Spidell said the Strasburg bats have been alive during the postseason.
"They have been hitting so well the past two weeks," said Spidell. "We keep saying if we just score four runs teams cannot score on us. Four runs is our goal and you had better win if you score four."
Senior JaeLyn Marks added a pair of hits for the winners as did Richards.
The Tigers made it 10-1 in the sixth after back-to-back solo blasts by Gilkerson to leftfield and Richards to deep centerfield off sophomore reliever Kyndall Ford.
Sparks left after allowing eight earned runs on eight hits with nine strikeouts and four walks in five innings of work.
Strasburg added a run on a wild pitch and Reiger smacked a two-run bomb for good measure as the Tigers took a 13-1 lead with three outs to get to seal the win.
The Titans got a leadoff home run by sophomore Katie Strickland in the bottom of the seventh, but Spidell retired the side without any further damage as the Tigers wrapped up another trip to the final four.
"Giving up solo home runs is better than with runners on base," said the sophomore lefty. "I felt for the most part I pitched pretty well."
When the game was in doubt, Spidell felt she might have been getting squeezed in the strike zone. However, after a confab with her father she bared down and the got out of the inning.
"He told me to stay mentally tough," recalled Spidell. "Everything's not going to go your way all the time. You have to keep pushing through it."
The elder Spidell feels the Tigers schedule is a big benefit at this time of the season.
"A lot of games they (the Titans) had were blowouts in their favor," said Spidell. "They weren't used to being in tight games. With our schedule, we play a lot of Division I and II teams just for that. We want that pressure so when we come into situations like this, they are more relaxed."
Out of the Division IV teams the Tigers have played this season, two runs is the most they have given up in a game and that streak remained intact against the Titans.
Now, it on to Akron and a chance to make more Strasburg softball history.
Reach Roger at 330-364-8427 or firstname.lastname@example.org on twitter:@TRSportsguy
This article originally appeared on The Times-Reporter: Strasburg softball routs Portsmouth Notre Dame in a D4 regional final