VIENNA -Wheeling Park softball coach Dee Davis raised a few eyebrows in the Field 2 press box at Jackson Memorial Park on the first day of the West Virginia State Softball Tournament.
Instead of throwing senior ace Carly Greer in the Patriots first round matchup against Ripley, Davis decided to put junior Skylar Carrington in the circle.
She didn't disappoint.
Carrington went the distance, allowing one run on five hits and retired three on strikes, as the Patriots defeated the Vikings, 7-1, to advance in the winner's bracket.
Park (19-6) was scheduled to play Lincoln County, who topped Musselman, 7-1, in the Panthers' first round matchup, but rain washed out the game. It will resume at 9 a.m. today.
Before the Patriots made the trip to Vienna, Carrington said the nerves were already taking their toll. When she found out she was going in the circle, which was roughly two hours before first pitch, the nerves went to a new level.
''Finding out I was pitching made it a lot more nerve-wracking,'' she said. ''I knew I had good defense behind me and my team could back me up. That helped a lot.''
Carrington, who improved her record to 8-1, found herself in a jam during the second inning with two on and no outs.
The junior then induced a fly out to center field, before a Hannah Ford sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position. Carrington fanned Sapphire Parsons to escape the inning.
''It was very nerve wracking considering we didn't score yet,'' Carrington said of the inning. ''I knew my team could play defense and I knew we could go in and hit the ball. We never hit in the first couple innings, then we come out strong in about the fourth. I had faith in them.''
Her faith was not misplaced.
Park came alive in the fourth, thanks to three errors by the Vikings (21-9), to take a 4-0 lead.
Carly Greer reached on an error to begin the inning then went to second on an Ashleigh Sidon bunt. The pitcher, who originally caught the ball, but dropped it, overthrew the first baseman to allow Greer and Sidon to reach third and second, respectively.
That was followed by a Kat Donzella hit that landed in no man's land at second and scored both seniors.
A Collen Tracy hit drove in Keleigh Sidon, who also reached on an error, and a sacrifice fly by Morgan Karnell drove in Tracy.
''The error with the pitcher, who threw it over the first baseman's head, her head went down right away after that,'' Davis said. ''Then we started hitting her and they brought in the other pitcher and we bombed her.
''Once you score, it's a big weight off your shoulders. That's what happened here.''
After Darby Petersen came on in relief of starter Chelsey Hager in the fifth, Keleigh Sidon drove in Greer and Ashleigh Sidon on a hit to center field to make it 6-0 and Ashleigh Sidon plated courtesy runner Kasey Freshwater on a hit in the seventh.
Izabella Donohew, who came on as a runner after a Myranda Murphy hit, scored on a groundout to first for Ripley's lone run.
''We did really well, but we had a couple of errors again,'' Davis said. ''I thought we should have hit better, but we hit when we needed to. Skylar pitched a really nice game. No one bombed her. A win is a win.
''This game (today) is going to be tough. (Lincoln County is) good in every position and they can all hit the ball. We're going to have our work cut out for us.''
If the rain holds off, today could be a tough outing for a majority of teams. In Park's case, for example, a win against Lincoln County would put the Patriots in the championship game for a second consecutive season.
A loss, however, would put them in an elimination game against Musselman, who knocked out Ripley, 3-2, in 10 innings.
Should that scenario play out, Park would have to beat Lincoln County twice to claim the state title. The problem arises with the fact that each pitcher is allowed only 14 innings per day in the circle. If a game goes into extra innings, teams would have to turn to a third pitcher.
''It's going to very important to win this first game,'' Davis noted. ''I don't think, honestly, that either (Park or Lincoln County) could beat the other twice in a row. I think we're both pretty good.''