WHEELING - The Wheeling Park bats were smoking hot, just like the weather, during Tuesday's girls' softball season opener against Brooke on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chambers Memorial Sports Complex.
Starting the bottom of the first inning with five straight hits and scoring four runs, the Patriots then turned things over to Carly Greer's strong two-hit pitching and a solid defense in rolling to an 8-1 victory against the Bruins.
The loss was the second straight for Brooke, which began the season with 6-1 loss against Morgantown on Monday. The Bruins were in that game until the sixth inning when the Mohigans pushed across five runs in the sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie.
But the visitors had little chance of bunching many hits against Greer as she walked only one and struck out five. Brooke's only run and lone two hits were the result of pop-fly singles that dropped into the grass in right field during the top of the second inning.
Park coach Dee Davis credited the early summer-like weather with helping her team look in near mid-season form in its first outing.
''I think we were only in the gym twice since practice started," she said. ''Being outside nearly the entire time really was a bonus this year. I kept stressing fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals and we definitely played well.''
Another plus for the Patriots was the way they came out swinging against Brooke starter Kristen Reardon.
Leadoff hitter Emily Puskarich, Park's quick-footed shortstop, started things off by laying one down a perfect bunt along the first base line and she easily beat the throw to the bag for a single.
Marissa Tucker then picked on the first pitch she saw and lined the ball over the head of left fielder Jessica Fowler for an RBI triple as Puskarich coasted home. Ally Dailer made it 2-0 with her single up the middle, followed by Greer's base knock to right. Kelsi Johnson's sharp single to center scored Dailer with the third run.
With two outs, the lead was boosted to 4-0 when Skylar Carrington dropped still another single into center for Park's sixth hit of the inning.
Brooke managed its only run off Greer on Kelsey Welsh's blooper to right, an infield out and Sammy Cusick's RBI hit over the head of second baseman Tucker. However, Cusick was then cut down attempting to move up a base as catcher Ashleigh Sidon fielded the throw from Dailer and fired a strike to Puskarich, who applied the tag.
The Bruins would not get another baserunner the rest of the day as Greer mowed down the final 15 batters, striking out the side in the fourth inning and later benefiting from some nice plays in the infield.
''Credit Park's defense," Brooke coach Mike Wagner said. ''When we did get a couple of nice bunts down or make good contact, they made the plays in the field."
Johnson had some nice picks at third base to start the seventh inning while, earlier in the game, Sidon's quick moves getting out from behind the plate allowed her to deny hits on a couple of Bruins bunt attempts.
''Kelsi is like automatic on those plays at third," Davis said. ''She did it last year and she's started off the same way today. The way our defense played took a lot of pressure off our pitchers. I keep telling them that if our opponents hit the ball and it stays in the park, we will go get it for you."
The Patriots offense again came alive in the third inning to put the game away, starting this frame off with three straight hits. Greer helped her own cause again by doubling off the fence in left field. Johnson was credited with a single on pop fly that fell off the shortstop's glove. After stealing second, both Johnson and courtesy runner Taylore Whorton scored on Sidon's line single that skipped past second base into centerfield. Later in the inning, Sidon crossed the plate on Kayla Kimmins infield out on a roller to second base.
Park added an eighth run in the sixth when Keleigh Sidon singled and never stopped running before crossing the plate after Puskarich's base knock up the middle.
Despite two losses to start the season in games which Brooke struggled at the plate, Wagner wasn't too pessimistic about the Bruins' outlook.
''We did okay defensively, except for a couple plays that gave them extra outs,'' he said.
''Offensively, we need to get some more people on base to put pressure on the other team's defense. We'll keep working on that. While we would like to win every game, there are positives we can take out of today. We'll build on those things and try to get better."
Park's 12-hit offense had Puskarich, Dailer, Greer and Jonson all collect two hits.