WHEELING - It may not have been the prettiest of Wheeling Central's 22 victories this season, but Wednesday's triumph against Bishop Donahue was enough to get West Virginia's top-ranked, small-school softball team into the second round of the Class A sectional tournament.
Senior Madison Basinger tossed a two-hitter and Jai'Ehir Jackson's two-run triple in the bottom of the fifth capped things off as the Maroon Knights took advantage of numerous Bishops mistakes to post a 9-1 victory in a Region One, Section One contest on Ben's Field at the J.B. Chamber's I-470 Sports Complex.
With the victory, Coach Rick Magruder's 22-2 club will return to the I-470 fields at 5 today to battle Madonna. The winner will be in the driver's seat for the sectional crown.
"It was ugly," Magruder said with a smile. "But we will take the win any way we can get it and continue to build from there. This time of year you have to come out and be ready to play each and every game no matter who it is against."
Donahue put up the first run in the second with a walk and a pair of singles. Following a one-out free pass to Josie Bonar, Jen Little singled to deep short to put runners at first and third.
Taylor Koontz then lined a single to right, barely beating the throw to first, with Bonar hustling around to score for a 1-0 lead.
However, they turned out to be the Bishops' only two hits as Basinger retired the final 10 batters she faced.
Central finally got the offense going in the third with Jackson beating out an infield single and quickly stealing second base. Joni Zavolta singled to right-center and beat the throw to second with Jackson then beating the throw home.
Zavolta scored when Bailey Rehm reached on an error for a 2-1 Maroon Knights advantage.
Central manufactured a third run in the inning with Rehm stealing second, moving to third on Sydney Bennington's fielder's choice and scoring on Allie Cook's run-scoring groundout to make it 3-1.
Things got worse for the Bishops in the fourth as Cara Stahl walked to lead off and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and fielder's choice. After that things fell apart for Donahue thanks in large part to three controversial calls in a row.
Zavolta reached on an error that was originally called an out with the Bishops leaving the field and being sent back out on a reversal by the home plate umpire. That scored one run.
The Maroon Knights added three more, all coming with two out, including another close play at first and an illegal pitch call that allowed a runner to advance, all going against the Bishops, and all of a sudden it was a 7-1 count.
Another miscue with out followed by a Cassidy McCord single set the stage for Jackson's two-run, game-ending triple to deep right-center field that finished things up at 9-1.
"We came out flat, but we were able to hang around, get a few hits and take advantage of their mistakes," Magruder admitted. "There were actually only two hard-hit balls for us the entire game, one by Sydney Bennington and then Jackson's triple at the end.
"There wasn't a whole lot of excitement, but I think getting our first run took some pressure off. We did play some nice defense, with Baily Rehm making some real nice plays at third base."