When Stefanie Guercio pitches for the Carthage softball team, just a little bit of run support usually suffices.

She got just that Friday afternoon in the Reds’ first NCAA Division III Tournament regional appearance since 2013.

Guercio limited Coe (Iowa) to one run in the top of the fifth inning, then Carthage’s offense came through with two runs in the bottom of the fifth and one in the sixth for a 3-1 victory at UW-Whitewater’s Van Steenderen Softball Diamond.

Guercio, who entered the tournament with a 0.90 ERA, limited the Kohawks — ranked No. 19 in the latest NCAA Division III poll — to three hits and no earned runs with two walks and eight strikeouts. Guercio (19-4) is now five strikeouts shy of tying Krystina Leazer’s single-season program record of 225, set in 2013.

“Stef has obviously just been consistent for us the entire year,” Carthage coach Amy Gillmore said. “Usually when we get her a couple of runs, we know that we’re sitting pretty well.”

The Reds (27-14) are also sitting well in the four-team regional bracket.

With the victory, Carthage stays in the winner’s bracket in the double-elimination format and will face 23rd-ranked UW-Whitewater (27-12) at 11 a.m. today.

The Warhawks crushed Eureka (Ill.), 10-0 in five innings, in Friday’s other regional game.

That means Coe (32-10) and Eureka (27-7) will play at 1:30 p.m. today in an elimination game. The winner of that game will then play the loser of the Carthage-Whitewater game in another elimination game at 3:30 p.m. today.

The winner of the Carthage-Whitewater game moves into Sunday’s championship round.

“You definitely don’t want to go through the loser’s bracket,” Gillmore said. “That makes it extremely hard. We still have a long ways to go, but it just makes it a little bit easier for us.

“... It’s nice to get that first win. No matter who you play at this level and at this point, you’re going to be facing good teams and good pitching, but you don’t want to be facing elimination right off the bat.”

Carthage avoided that, at least for now, with a key fifth inning Friday.

After Coe scored an unearned run in the top of the frame for a 1-0 lead, Guercio allowed a bunt single and walk to load the bases with one out. But she got the next two hitters to foul out to limit the damage.

“They had an opportunity to break the game wide open, and they didn’t,” Gillmore said.

In the bottom of the inning, freshman Kelsey Domagala led off and smacked a 1-0 pitch over the fence in right off Alyssa Olson (19-3) to make it 1-1.

“It was really nice to see a freshman come through with that big hit,” Gillmore said.

Brooke Sefcik followed with a base hit, then pinch runner Danielle Koziczkowski advanced to second on a bunt and scored on Makenzie Miller’s pinch-hit double to left-center.

The Reds added an insurance run in the sixth when Donna Stevens led off with a walk, moved to second on a bunt, advanced to third on Ellie Bernero’s single and scored on Domagala’s groundout.

Guercio then pitched a 1-2-3 seventh.

Carthage will now get another tough test against Whitewater, which swept the Reds in a non-conference doubleheader, 10-6 and 4-0 in eight innings, April 25 in Kenosha.

“We didn’t play our best game, both offensively and defensively (in the first game),” Gillmore said. “The second game was a pitcher’s duel until it got to extra innings. Our defense just didn’t play well once it went to that eighth inning.

“... We have to not make errors and get the hits when we need them.”

Mike Johnson

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