WHEELING - The Cardiac Crusaders have done it again.
Trailing 6-2 after four innings during Saturday's OVAC Class 2A Championship against Wheeling Central on Lisa's Field, and needing two to tie heading into the bottom of the seventh, Steubenville Catholic received some help in the form of two errors and went on to score three times for an 8-7 victory.
Micca Mirabella's bunt was overthrown to second and the ball rolled all the way to the center-field wall, allowing both Tori Knight and Mirabella to score and tie the game at 7-7 with two outs. Sammi Giannamore followed with a double and scored the winner as Maddy Gulan laced an 0-2 pitch into center, setting off a wild celebration at home plate.
It's the second consecutive come-from-behind victory in tournament play for the Crusaders (16-3), and this one denied the Maroon Knights (16-8), the No. 1-ranked Class A team in West Virginia, their third straight OVAC crown.
"We haven't lost a close game all year long,'' Steubenville Catholic coach Jim DiCarlo said. "The three games we lost were not close and we've won about five or six really close games.
"Our kids believe. They believe we'll find a way whether it's 1-0, 10-9 or 8-7.''
Wheeling Central had freshman Crusaders pitcher Alex McComb's number early as back-to-back, first-inning triples by Cara Stahl and Allie Cook made it 1-0. The Knights tacked on two more before the inning ended on consecutive RBI singles off the bats of Sydney Bennington and Sarah Henry.
The Crusaders got two back in their half of the first as Gulan tripled home a run and McComb drove another in with a single. But Wheeling Central made it 5-2 in the top of the second thanks to two of the Crusaders' four errors in the initial two innings. Ashley Gast made them pay with a two-run single.
"They could have folded up early because we were hitting the ball very hard and shutting them down,'' Knights coach Rick Magruder said of the Crusaders. "But they keep battling.
"They're well-coached, they're disciplined and they also have a group of girls that don't know how to quit."
Consecutive two-out singles and a walk by Bennington had the sacks full of Knights in the fourth. Henry came through again with a single into left-center for a 6-2 advantage, but Central left the bases loaded.
"We had a lot of runners on and if we score some more runs you don't have to worry about it," Magruder said.
But the tide changed dramatically in the top of the fifth. With one on and two out Mirabella ripped a ball over the head of Wheeling Central's left fielder, who was playing in on. Mirabella quickly circled the bases for a two-run, inside-the-park homer to cut the deficit to two, 6-4.
"Micca's speed is unbelievable,'' DiCarlo said. "That ball she hit over the outfielder's head sparked us."
After McComb set the Maroon Knights down in order, Steubenville Catholic went back to work. Ashlynne Daley dropped a 2-2 pitch into right field to score courtesy runner Maddy Metcalf, who had taken over for McComb who reached on a fielder's choice.
The Maroon Knights, it seemed, delivered the knockout blow in the top of the seventh when with two outs, No. 9 hitter Cassidy McCord dropped down a bunt and beat the throw to first, allowing courtesy runner Megan Griffin, who went in for Henry after she collected her third hit - a double - to score.
"She had a couple big hits, she pitched well," Magruder said of Henry.
Not to be denied, the Crusaders made the Knights pay for two of their three errors on the day in the bottom of the inning, to win it.
"That's one of the best-hitting teams in the valley,'' DiCarlo said of the Maroon Knights. "But I thought we hit the ball well and I knew sooner or later we would find some holes and get a break or two, and we did.
"We both made a lot of mistakes.
"Our kids just battle all the time. If we would have lost I would have still been proud of our kids for coming back and battling to have a shot there at the end of the game."