BRADENTON -- As happy as Kirsten Samuels was Tuesday afternoon, that was how disappointed she was four years ago.
Samuels was a seventh-grader at Saint Stephen's and was all ready to suit up for the school's softball team.
Not enough girls shared the sentiment, however, and the Falcons were unable to field a varsity team.
Led by a dugout full of players Tuesday and Samuels' work in the pitching circle and at the plate, the Falcons defeated Out-of-Door Academy 12-5 in a Class 3A-District 10 semifinal at Palma Sola Park.
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The program that took a hiatus four years ago plays for a district title 6 p.m. Friday against top-seeded Bradenton Christian at State College of Florida, and advanced to next week's regional tournament.
"It's come a long way," said Samuels, a junior. "I've been here the whole way and we have an extremely young team, so it's got a long way to go. But we've come a long way.
Samuels generated some excitement herself, reaching base four times and driving in two while cracking a triple and a single.
She also pitched a complete game and helped the Falcons' run their record to 6-9.
Samuels did have plenty of help. Down 2-0 after a half inning, Saint Stephen's fired back with three of its own in the bottom of the first on RBI triples by Samuels and Rebecca Banks, and a two-out scoring single by Hannah Martell, the only senior in the starting lineup Tuesday.
Kayla Hayes singled, tripled and scored a run for the Falcons, who also got two hits, an RBI and a pair of run out of Reagan Sullivan, their No. 9 hitter.
Samuels shook off a shaky first inning and limited the Thunder to six hits while striking out five.
The Thunder got a big day from Melanie Mason, a senior leadoff hitter who went 2-for-2 with two walks, four stolen bases and four runs scored.
The game also marked the final prep start for ODA pitcher Maggie Winkler, the Thunder's only pitcher the last five years.
"I'm going to miss her dearly," said ODA coach Joe Johnsky. "She's the heart and soul of this team."
The Thunder had four seniors in the lineup Tuesday, but also started a seventh-grader (Chloe Flanders), an eighth-grader (Kiarra Walker, who singled in a run) and two freshmen (Elena Ciaccio and Sydney Avery).
"We're building for the future," Johnsky said. "They played (Tuesday) to the best of their ability. I get another four, five months with these girls, I've got a good team, because I've got some girls with really good talent."