WHEELING - With the OVAC playoffs and sectionals approaching, the Wheeling Central softball team is catching fire at the right time according to coach Rick Magruder.
Ashley Gast launched another long home run and freshman shortstop Syndey Bennington went 4-for-4 as the Maroon Knights backed the solid three-hit pitching of Brittany Miller with a 12-hit attack during a 9-0 mercy-rule shortened victory against host Linsly on Thursday.
Sarah Henry also had a big day at the plate with three singles and three runs batted in while the Maroon Knights racked up their sixth straight victory, improving their overall record to 11-7.
''We're putting everything together," the pleased Magruder said. ''For the last week or so, we've really been hitting and Ashley Gast is just crushing the ball."
Wheeling Central's hot streak has made a convert out of Linsly coach Darryl Crews.
''Central's very difficult to beat right now," Crews said. ''They can hit the ball and make all the plays in the field."
Although disappointed with the loss, the Cadets' ninth against six victories, Crews continues to take an optimistic view of his team's season.
''We did some good things. Twice Central had the bases loaded with nobody out and we allowed just one run,'' he said. "We have a bunch of young girls and part of what they have to do is learn to believe in themselves.
"This is a fun group to work with and they are getting better.''.
Magruder's only complaint about the six-inning runaway dealt with Central's inability to take advantage of several opportunities.
''We had a lot of nice hits but we still left a lot of runners on base." he pointed out.
After Gast opened the second inning by connecting for her home run with a deep fly that easily cleared the fence in left-center field for a 1-0 lead, the Maroon Knights loaded the bases but failed to score again.
Bennington began her ay with a fly ball that dropped just inside the foul line for a double, then held second base as Miller's short fly was dropped in fight field. Sarah Henry followed with a single to fill the bases. However, Cadets pitcher Sarah Johnson left the runners stranded by retiring the next three batters on a pop fly, her only strikeout and a fly out to left field.
Leading 4-0 entering the fifth inning, Central had another huge opportunity as an error, Bennington's second double and a walk again filled the bases with nobody out. The only run scored on Laken Visnick's one-out sacrifice fly to Julia Bird in center field.
The Maroon Knights put together five hits to score three times in the third inning. Bri Robbins singled, stole second and scored on Gast's line double to left. Bennington singled and one out later with runners at second and third, Henry picked up a couple of RBI with a single as her hard-hit ground ball took a bad hop and skipped off the glove of shortstop Emma Cecil.
Central put the game away with four runs in the top of the sixth during a rally that was helped out by three Linsly errors. Madison Basinger, pinch-hitting for Vanessa Saseen, singled to pick up one RBI. Also driving in runs with base hits were Miller and Henry, her third RBI of the game.
Miller was in complete control, allowing just singles to Claudia Palmer, Cecil and Johnson while striking out three and walking only one. The Cadets managed to get just two runners on the doorstep at third base but none crossed the plate.
''One of our goals is always to get better by the end of the year and we are moving in the right direction," Magruder said. ''We're playing very well on defense and getting our lineup set.
"Miller's been pitching really well and Bri (Robbins) is just a tremendous athlete who makes nice catches wherever she plays in the field."