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Wheeling Central Baseball Prevails In Season Debut

Photo by Kristin Mazgaj Wheeling Central’s Eli Tucker fields a fly ball during Wednesday’s game against Shadyside.

SHADYSIDE — In a game that featured 15 runners left on base and 18 strikeouts, including 11 looking, Wednesday night’s baseball battle between debuting Wheeling Central and Shadyside all came down to a first inning triple that eventually accounted for three runs.

The Maroon Knights collected three of their eight hits in the first inning, pushing across all the runs they needed in the process, with the big blow and two-run Michael Toepfer triple, as Central thwarted numerous scoring opportunities by the Tigers to post a hard-fought 3-1 road victory, in the process giving first-year Coach Jason Rowe his initial victory.

“This was an unbelievable team victory for a group that wants to go about things as a family,” an elated Rowe said. “Everyone here has come together, and I may have had to wait two years to get it, but it is absolutely great to get my first victory at Wheeling Central.”

While no one could have possibly known it at the time, everything came down to that big first inning. Senior Jordan Waterhouse got things started with a lead-off single before Nick Tsoras was hit by a pitch putting runners on first and second. Toepfer then ripped the first pitch he saw from starting, and losing, pitcher Mason VanNest into the right-center field gap for a two-run triple. Colby Hartman followed with a run-scoring fielder’s choice and the Maroon Knights were well on their way.

Wheeling Central starter Ben Foster got into plenty of jams in his five innings of work but got big outs in big situations along the way to eventually earn the win. Shadyside’s first threat came in the bottom of the first when Rhys Francis reached on an infield single and ended up at third after stealing a pair of bases before being stranded.

The Tigers, who lost for just the second time in 12 outings, also had runners at second and third with one out in the second but failed to score and second and third with nobody out and eventually the bases loaded with two down and failed to push across a run in the third.

Shadyside did dent the scoreboard in the fifth when senior Jordan Joseph led off the frame with a base hit and stole second before Francis worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Joseph’s fourth stolen base of the day put runners at the corners before Francis took second a pitch later.

Joseph finally scored the host’s only run on a VanNest fielder’s choice RBI before Foster got a fly out and a line drive to short to once again end a major threat.

Ben Wach’s lead-off single in the bottom of the seventh and a stolen base had the Tigers in scoring position one final time, however, Tsoras, who recorded the final six outs of the game for the winners set down the top three Shadyside hitters in the order to end the contest.

“The three runs in the first inning holding up normally just does not happen,” Rowe said. “But Michael Toepfer got the big hit and our pitchers made it stand. It all came down to execution and throwing strikes, and the right pitches at the right time. I also can’t say enough about our senior catcher, Colby Hartman, who has stepped into that position and did not allow a ball by him all day.

“This is a great start for us and hopefully we can keep it going and make some noise. We have some ground to make up in the OVAC standing with the late start, but one of those first four spots is our goal.”

While the Knights scored the only three runs they needed in the first they also squandered chances, leaving runners in scoring position in the third, fourth and fifth innings. VanNest and Corey Beckett, who fanned five in the final two innings of work, combined for 11 strikeouts and just one walk for the Tigers.

“Leaving runners on base and not getting timely hits has been hurting us all season long,” Tigers’ Coach Shawn Selmon said. “We did get the leadoff guy on a couple of times, but we haven’t been doing that very often. Hitting has been a struggle for us and our scores have shown that. Pretty much all of our games have been close but a few we have scored some runs late in. And we really do have some pretty good hitters. Central was able to get a couple of timely hits early (Wednesday), but overall, both of our pitchers did very well. We have three very good starters and they are up there for a reason, but we have to do a better job at the plate.

“Wheeling Central is a good team, and they are going to do some good things this season. Foster did a good job keeping us off balance and their reliever (Tsoras) did a good job as well.”

Shadyside stranded eight runners in the contest, including seven in scoring position, while the Maroon Knights left seven, four in scoring position.

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