WHEELING - For six innings, Saturday afternoon's OVAC Class 2A final had just about everything you would want from a championship game.
The pitching was solid, the defense nearly just as good and there were also a timely hit or two as a good crowd enjoyed the tightly played battle on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chambers Memorial Youth Sports Complex.
But with the score tied at 2-2 entering the top of the seventh, things suddenly unraveled, especially for Steubenville Catholic. Defending champion Wheeling Central took advantage of a huge break to explode for seven runs and then hang on for a 9-5 victory.
Wheeling Central’s Maria Olsen is tagged out by Steubenville Catholic pitcher Paige Creamer after she tried to score on a passed ball Saturday. Looking on is the Knights’ Brittany Miller.
Central began what proved to be the game-winning rally on a solid single to left field by Brittany Miller. Paige Creamer, the standout Crusaders pitcher who had not issued a single base on balls and allowed just five hits to that point, suddenly lost control and walked Emily Wizba on four pitches. Laken Visnick moved up both runners with her well-placed sacrifice bunt and Creamer loaded the bases by walking Megan Griffin.
Joni Zavolta then tapped the ball in front of the plate where it was fielded by Creamer who threw the ball home to trying for a forceout.
However, courtesy runner Cara Stahl slid in safely when it was ruled that the catcher's foot was not in contact with home plate.
Before Steubenville Catholic could finally get the second and third outs of the inning, Wheeling Central had scored six more runs. Bri Robbins singled to left, extending the lead to 4-2. That was followed by Vanessa Saseen's third straight hit, this one a two-run single. An error, freshman Sydney Bennington's run-scoring double, a wild pitch that led to another run and Sarah Henry's RBI single capped the inning.
The Crusaders, top-seeded in the tournament, turned a walk, an error, wild pitch, Allee Vandeborne's single and Maddy Gulan's run-scoring double into three runs in the bottom of the seventh before Robbins' nice catch of Creamer's fly ball ended the contest.
''It was definitely a great game for six innings," said Central Coach Rick Magruder after Lady Maroon Knights extended their winning streak to 12 in a row and their overall record to 17-7 this season. ''You know what Steubenville Central is like," he continued. ''You've got to try and eliminate your mistakes because they are going to capitalize on them and they did on the few we made.
''We were fortunate enough to do the same thing on their mistakes and then we started hitting the ball at the right time."
The tough call at home plate in the seventh added to the misfortune that Crusaders had to deal with in the loss. With the score tied 1-1 earlier, Coach Jim DiCarlo's team lost a run he thought had scored on a wild pitch when Sammi Giannamore was sent back to third base because of hitter's interference. Allie Vandeborne was called out when she was ruled to have pulled her bat back and hit the catcher's mitt with runners at first and third and only one out in the bottom of the third inning.
''I was kind of baffled a little bit by both calls," DiCarlo said, ''But I told our kids we have to be good enough to overcome any adversity.
''We gave them some opportunities that we shouldn't have, but give Central credit. I don't want to stand here and complain about the umpires. If we had limited the damage in the last inning, we still could have won the game."
Both pitches were able to keep their opponents' formidable offenses under control for the most of the chilly afternoon.
Miller walked four, struck out three and yielded six hits with the only extra-base blows being doubles by freshman Ashlynne Daley and Gulan.
''I don't think Brittany had her best stuff, but she was just effective enough to keep them off balance," Magruder said. ''When she got in trouble, she made the pitches she needed to make to get them out.''
Miller also received some help from her defense as Saseen turned in a couple of good plays at third base while the outfield combination of Wizba in left, Robbins in center and Zavolta in right combined to track down seven fly balls. Wizba was especially busy in left as she recorded five putouts.
''Our freshman shortstop (Bennington) booted one but then came back and made a couple of nice plays and got a big hit in the seventh inning," Magruder noted.
''Paige Creamer pitched very well for us against a Wheeling Central team which has some great athletes and a lot of good hitters," DiCarlo stressed. ''We gave them a run on an error in the third inning and they got another on a throw to first base when their girl came home from third after a dropped third strike."
Creamer struck out seven and allowed just four hits until the fateful top of the seventh.
The Crusaders (16-5) scored first in the bottom of second after Creamer singled and courtesy runner Tori Knight came home when Daley found the left-center gap for a double.
Wheeling Central tied it in the top of the third after two errors and Saseen's two-out single on a ground ball to deep short that Micca Mirabella gloved but had no chance to make a play at first.
Steubenville Catholic regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth as Giannamore singled, Mirabella walked and a two-out error put the Crusaders in front 2-1.
The Maroon Knights got even in the sixth after Robbins and Saseen singled. Bennington fanned but had to be thrown out after the ball fell out of Clark's give. During the throw to first to retire Bennington, Robbins took off for home and beat the relay back to the plate.