BRADENTON -- Saint Stephen's leadoff hitter Kayla Hayes knows how to bunt.
It may not have looked like it during a crucial at-bat in Thursday's Class 3A-Region 3 softball quarterfinal.
But Hayes' failure on a pair of bunt attempts turned into the main reason the Falcons advanced to the region semifinals for the first time since 2006.
With her team trailing Naples St. John Neumann 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Hayes ripped a double, scoring twins Devon and Reagan Sullivan and keying a four-run rally that spurred the Falcons to a 9-6 victory at Moore Athletic Complex.
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"Those first two attempts at bunting were really bad," said Hayes, a first baseman and one of three seniors on the team. "I should have been out. I was lucky I still had a chance to hit."
With one out, Hayes tried unsuccessfully to bunt home Devon Sullivan from third base, poopping up both attempts foul. Devon had opened the inning with a single and moved to third on Reagan's single with Reagan advancing to second on the throw.
But Hayes responded by lofting a long fly ball to left-center field. It fell in, and the Falcons had the lead.
"She's a fantastic bunter," Saint Stephen's head coach Mike Murphy said. "She's been my leadoff hitter for three years, and she's never given me concern about her being at the top of the lineup. I had confidence in her bunting, and I had confidence in her hitting with two strikes."
After Hayes' big hit, St. John Neumann (13-11) committed a pair of errors, allowing two insurance runs to score.
The Celtics -- who had just one senior, non-starter Alexis Gray, on the roster -- had taken the lead with a three-run fourth inning and led until the bottom of the sixth.
"We just let up on our intensity," Celtics coach Andrea Peterson said. "We didn't take our at-bats as seriously as we wanted. The defense made mistakes, and the offense didn't pick it back up."
Saint Stephen's (10-11) made its first region appearance since 2008. The Falcons will host Moore Haven in the region semifinal at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Moore Haven defeated Bradenton Christian 12-0 on Thursday.
Both teams came out firing with a little help from jittery defenses. The Celtics scored two runs in the first, one on an Allison Denison single and another on a Falcons throwing error.
Saint Stephen's responded with three runs, thanks to a sacrifice fly from Lindsay Barton and RBI singles from Kirsten Samuels and Rebecca Banks.
"I think they got a little overconfident and thought that would happen every inning," Peterson said of her hitters.
Tori Owen's two-run single keyed the Celtics' three-run fourth, then the teams traded runs for the next three half-innings.
A key play came in the top of the fifth. St. John Neumann pitcher Michele Peterson and Liz Ullrich doubled to lead off the inning and give the Celtics a 6-4 lead. But the next batter, Camie Renner, grounded to Saint Stephen's third baseman Sydney Ashley, who threw to first for the out. Hayes then cut down Ullrich after she strayed too far off second for a double play.
"That was big," Murphy said. "It helped us get our momentum back and tighten down our defense."
Falcons pitcher Kirsten Samuels set down the next six batters before walking a Celtics batter with two outs in the seventh. Samuels allowed nine hits and five earned runs. She struck out three and walked two.
Michele Peterson gave up 10 hits and seven earned runs. She fanned six and walked two.
Samuels and Reagan Sullivan led the Saint Stephen's offense with two hits apiece. Peterson had a triple and a double for the Celtics, and Ullrich had a pair of hits.