CAMP POINT, Ill. -- Thursday's 5-0 victory over Liberty in the Class 1A Central Regional title game was simply one step back to where the Central softball team wants to be.
The regional title was the Lady Panthers' fourth straight, and they will play Tuesday in the Calhoun Sectional against either Carrollton or Springfield Calvary, who play Saturday in the Winchester Regional title game.
After that, a potential rematch with defending state champion Hardin Calhoun looms.
Central lost to the Lady Warriors 1-0 in last season's sectional championship after a 14-inning duel between the Panthers' Jacey Nall and Calhoun's Grace Baalman.
"We've been preparing for (Baalman) all year," Nall said. "To just get a hit off of her is an achievement. It will be the last year for these seniors to get to state."
That doesn't mean that the Lady Panthers (28-7) are looking past whoever their next foe might be.
"Our mindset is not looking ahead to Calhoun by any means," Central coach Amy Hildebrand said. "Our first game is just as important, so our mindset is on that game and only that game at this point in time. We'll go from there."
The Lady Panthers took control early against the Eagles (8-19), scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Brianna Hilderband led off with a single and later scored on Nall's base hit. Courtesy runner Mady Wear then scored on Brey Genenbacher's triple, and Gracee Fundel singled home Genenbacher.
Central added another pair of runs in the fourth when Hilderband brought home Mallori Dewitt with a double, then scored on Alaina Vance's base hit into center field.
"Being a pitcher and knowing you have runs, it feels good," Nall said. "Because if (the opponents) get a hit, you know it's OK and nothing's hurt."
Nall allowed just one baserunner -- Kaleigh Powell led off the second inning with a single -- and struck out 11 batters.
"It was very difficult," Liberty coach Sara Reichert said. "The fact that we just couldn't get any runners on, you can't do much."
The Eagles were content with reaching the regional title game.
"Our main objective all season was to make it to the regional finals," Reichert said. "We want to come in and be respectable, and I think we did that."
Lawren Ruths took the loss for Liberty as she allowed three runs on five hits in two innings. Kenzy Wagner allowed two runs on seven hits and struck out four batters in four innings of relief.
Class 1A Central Regional Championship
Central 5, Liberty 0
Liberty 000 000 0--0
Central 300 200 x--5
Ruths, Wagner (3) and Thomas; Nall and Hildebrand. WP--Nall. LP--Ruths. 2B--Central 1 (Hildebrand). 3B--Central 1 (Genenbacher).