WHEELING - For the eighth time in school history, St. John Central is the queenpin of the OVAC Class A girls' softball field.
The Irish (18-4) tied Edison and John Marshall with eight titles after their methodical, 6-0, whitewashing off Bishop Donahue on a down-right cold Saturday morning on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Complex.
Only the Bishops (13) and Wheeling Central (10) have more championships. It was St. John Central's first championship since the 2007 season.
"These girls stepped up. I can't be any happier with a group of girls," veteran Irish coach Jerry Magistro said. "When we started this back in the winter, we didn't have the numbers and we had some injuries. We had a lot of freshmen who had to play, and some kids even played hurt.
"So, with everything that's gone on this season, and where we are now, I'm just so happy for these kids. I'm sure there were a lot of people out there that didn't think we'd get this far, or do this good, but these freshmen getting to play in a big game like this gives them even more experience for the years to come.
While most of the talk centered around his first-year players, sophomore Hannah Absalom, who sat out her freshman season because of injury, continued her dominance from inside the circle.
The hard-throwing Absalom struck out 16 Bishops, one less than she did against Conotton Valley in a semifinal victory. She was perfect for 3 innings before walking Abby Randolph on a 3-2 pitch. She then retired the next seven Bishops before yielding a two-out single to shallow left by Tess Fallova, who was erased attempting to steal by veteran Irish catcher Rosa Young.
Absalom gave up a leadoff single to Randolph to start the seventh, but struck out the side to end the game.
"Hannah has done this all season for us," Magistro said. "With her in the circle, we are a pretty good team."
Absalom was also responsible for scoring half of her team's runs. She led off the game with a wicked smash off the right knee of Bishop Donahue third baseman Beth Wolfe, who was carried off the field and later taken to Wheeling Hospital for diagnosis.
After stealing second, Absalom was sacrificed to third by Kaydie Coppa. She scored on Young's bouncer to short. That proved to be the only run the lanky sophomore needed, but the Irish did let up.
They plated another run in the second as Sydney Helms drew a leadoff walk and went to second on a wild pitch. With one out, Amber LaMotte's grounder to short skipped into the outfield for an error as Helms chugged home.
It became 4-0 in the third when Absalom drilled a triple to deep left leading off. Coppa's infield single got Absalom home and Coppa crossed the plate when Gina Beekman's shot to second was misplayed.
Some aggressive baserunning by the Irish made it 6-0 in the fourth. Kyleigh Falcone reached second on a one-out error and Cheyenne Harris bunted her to third. Absalom walked and Coppa's infield roller turned into a circus as the Irish runners never seemed to stop running while the Bishops threw the ball around the infield, albeit late every time.
When it was all said and done and the dust had settled, Falcone and Absalom had both scored.
"We lost a game earlier this season because of our baserunning," Magistro recalled. "But I thought our baserunning got us a couple of runs."
Bishop Donahue head coach Curt Mele said, despite the loss, he was proud of his team.
"I really liked our chances coming in, but we knew that it would take a nearly perfect game to beat St. John. They have a great team that is very well coached, and we didn't play a perfect game. Give them (St. John) credit."
Mele did note that Wolfe suffered a badly bruised knee and will need further diagnosis after the swelling goes down.
Magistro, who ran his 12-year record to 242-73, was really happy for his trio of seniors.
"Rosa has been our catcher and our No. 3 hitter for four years," he praised. "I'm not sure many teams can say that. She's really aggressive behind the plate and does a good job with the bat.
"Gina is the one I really want to talk about," Magistro added.
"Here's a girl that is a great pitcher that never got to pitch (Saturday) because she's such a good third baseman. I don't know if she's ever had an errant throw to first base in four years, but she did it for the team. We are a much better team with her at third, and I take my hat off to her. I really do. She thought of her team first.
"And Emily Powell. This girl has had so much bad luck in her four years with injuries. I really happy that she is involved in something like this. She deserves it for what she's been through in four years."
With one of its goals achieved, the Irish will now set their sights on the remaining regular-season schedule, which continues Monday on Amanda's Field in Bellaire when Union Local comes calling, and the upcoming Division IV Sectional Tournament.