WHEELING - Wheeling Central first baseman Ashley Gast whistled the first pitch she saw on a line over the fence in right field for a game-winning, walk-off home run that lifted the Maroon Knights past Cameron 6-5 on Thursday on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Complex.
Gast's blast off freshman pitcher Linda Hall came after the Dragons (10-2) had rallied for two runs in the top of the inning for a 5-5 deadlock in the clash of West Virginia Section One, Class A rivals.
''It was a shot," Central coach Rick Magruder said about the game-winner. ''We've been struggling and hopefully this will get us back on track."
Despite the setback, Cameron coach Mark Witzberger couldn't have been more pleased with the outing from his young hurler and the Dragons determination to battle back from a late-game deficit.
''My freshman pitcher did such an outstanding job," praised Witsberger, who made the decision to start Hall instead of Cameron senior all-stater Tara Paczewski.
Earlier in the season, Paczewski tossed a shutout in a 2-0 triumph against the Maroon Knights.
''I didn't want Central to see Tara too much,'' he said. ''With the OVAC tournament and the sectional coming up, she is going to pitch against them several more times.
''But I really admired what Linda did against them. She never lost her composure and wanted the ball to go out and pitch the seventh inning after we tied it up. You never know if the outcome might have changed, but if we catch two fly balls, we probably win the game."
Magruder admitted that he also thought about not giving the ball to his senior pitcher Brittany Miller when he found out that Paczewski wasn't going to pitch.
''But I thought we really needed a win," he said.
Miller also went the distance and pitched around six walks and six hits to pick up a victory.
In the top of the first, the Dragons collected four hits and took advantage of a couple of Central throwing boo-boos to score three times.
With one out, Paczewski blooped a single into right and came all the away around to score when Lexi Benline doubled down the left-field line. Audrey Bryan walked and, with two out, Taylor Whipkey doubled to left scoring Benline. The third run of the inning crossed the plate when the throw back to the infield was mishandled and then the ball was thrown past third base on an attempt to make a play on the runner.
''Both teams were a little shaky fielding the ball," Magruder said. ''I told our girls I can live with the physical mistakes but mental errors like throwing the ball when you don't really need to do it and not covering third on a bunt allowing a runner to take an extra base have been killing us."
Hall retired the first two Maroon Knights in the bottom of first but Vanessa Saseen singled past the outstretched glove of Cassidi Richmond at shortstop and Gast singled to left. Miller then hit a fly ball into right field that nicked off the glove of Shenai Wade for a two-run triple.
Central tied the game in the third after another Dragons misplay. Joni Zavolta wound up at second base when the ball fell out of Benline's glove in center field. Zavolta then took third on an infield out and scored as Vanessa Saseen singled on a ball that was knocked down by a diving Richmond near second base.
The Maroon Knights went ahead 4-3 in the fourth after a walk to Syndey Bennington and singles by Laken Visnick and Zavolta. In the sixth inning, the advantage was increased to two run as Megan Griffin got aboard via a bunt single, took second on Visnick's successful sacrifice, third when Benline robbed Zavolta of another hit with a nice running catch and she finally scored on Bri Robbins' single to center.
Richmond started the top of the seventh with a single into left field and she continued to third base when the ball got past Emily Wizba. Paczewski then walked for third straight time and strolled into second base carrying the potential tying run with Benline at the plate. After Miller picked up her fourth strikeout of the game, Bryan's two-run single to center tied it at 5-5.