WHEELING - Heads-up base running by Wheeling Central's Andrew Keane as he advanced from first to third on a bunt in the bottom of the sixth inning proved to be the key play for the Maroon Knights during Thursday night's 3-1 victory against visiting Toronto.
With the score tied 1-1 in the well-pitched game played under sunny skies and warm temperatures at the J.B. Chambers Youth Sports Complex, Keane led off what proved to be the game-winning rally by drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch.
Anthony Tighe's attempt at a sacrifice bunt worked to perfection and he wound up with a hit when the Red Knights' second baseman failed get over in time to take the throw at first base. Keane made it even more rewarding for the Maroon Knights by never breaking stride and advancing to third base where he slid in well ahead of a late-arriving throw.
Wheeling Central coach Jim Wodusky was coaching at third base at the time but refused to take any of the credit for Keane's daring move.
''On something like that, he was on his own. Andrew thought the throw was going to first base and he kept coming," Wodusky explained. ''For once, we were able to take advantage of somebody's mistake."
When the dust cleared, the Maroon Knights had runners at first and third with nobody out, similar to a situation back in the first inning.
However, they failed to convert on that early opportunity as Keane was picked off third base and Patrick Biega then bounced into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Biega came through when it counted the most, grounding a ball that got past diving second baseman Tyler Antinone for an RBI single. Tighe alertly went on to third when the ball was bobbled in right field for Toronto's only physical error of the day.
The extra 90 feet again paid off when Mic Keys picked up an RBI by bouncing out on a slow roller to shortstop Tyler Owens.
''It was one of those days," Red Knights coach Brian Perkins said. "When we hit the ball hard, it was right at them. Their kid pitched well and so did ours. We did not execute the bunt coverage and that was the momentum changer in the game."
Pitching a complete-game, four-hitter for Central was big senior left-hander Brandon Gast. He struck out three and walked two. In four of the seven innings, Gast faced the minimum three batters, helped out by a caught stealing when Derek Yocke's strong throw cut down Evan Johnson at second base in the top of the fifth.
Toronto's Spencer Sninchak also went the distance, walking one and striking out one.
"Both kids threw strikes," Wodusky pointed out. ''Brandon got a little off key in that last inning but he was able to finish the game. He's been a pleasant surprise this year. Every time I've used him, he's been solid. Early in the season he had a little more pop with his fastball but now he's just trying to throw strikes."
Central's early run against Sninchak came as the result of a balk in the bottom of the second inning. With two out, Nate Bakaitis blasted a triple over the head of Red Knights center fielder John Mariner. Sninchak then attempted the same pickoff move that saw him nail Keane in the first inning. This time, he was called for the balk, giving the Maroon Knights a 1-0 lead.
Toronto (14-8) tied the game in the sixth after an error, a hit batter and Sninchak's single into center field.
In the top of the seventh the first Red Knights hitter, Ralph King, was retired on a pop fly near home plate when Biega came racing in from behind first base to make a sliding catch. Brad Melville then ripped a drive into deep left that was hauled down on the run by John McFarland.
With one out to go, Toronto put two runners aboard after a walk and a error. Owens then hit a line drive that saw Keys sprint across center field and haul it in for what was another fine catch to end the game.
The victory broke a two-game losing streak from the defending West Virginia Class A state champions who head into tournament play next week with an 11-12 record.
Central will begin sectional play Monday against Madonna in the Class A sectional at John Marshall's Monarch Field in Glen Dale.