WHEELING - Hits, home runs and good at-bats are always key components to winning softball games, but sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest difference.
Tuesday, Wheeling Central had its share of big hits, but the Maroon Knights managed to claim victory thanks in large part to base running and taking advantage of little Shadyside mistakes that turned into big runs.
Brittany Miller allowed four first-inning runs and then just three base runners the rest of the way and freshman Sydney Bennington tripled and blasted a home run as the third-seeded Maroon Knights rallied to post a 9-4 victory against the No. 2 Tigers in an OVAC Class 2A semifinal contest on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Sports Complex.
PHOTO BY RICK THORP
Wheeling Central’s Emily Wizba (10) pulls up as Shadyside’s Tierany Duncan looks on.
Coach Rick Magruder's 16-7 squad will look to defend its title at 12:15 on Saturday against the survivor of today's matchup between top-seeded Steubenville Catholic and No. 4 Cameron.
Meanwhile, Jillian Ongley's Tigers drop to 14-5 and will attempt to regroup with sectional play opening soon in Ohio.
It was a gift that got things going for the Tigers in the first as Karli Bonar reached on a leadoff error before Shelby Benedetta beat out a bunt and Tierney Duncan walked to load the bases with no one out.
The carousel continued turning as Shadyside took a 1-0 lead on a four-pitchwalk to Hayley Holenka. Kenzie Fielding then opened things up with a two-run double before the Belmont County squad made it 4-0 on Alisha Gulley's fielder's choice and a second Maroon Knights miscue.
''It was ugly at times and luckily we survived that first inning,'' Magruder said with a smile. ''Sometimes you need a little luck and we will definitely take it.''
Bennington put Central on the board in the second with a towering home run over the left-field fence to cut the deficit to 4-1.
The Knights continued to chip away in the third, even though they had a runner thrown out at the plate. Vanessa Saseen reached on a fielder's choice and advanced to second on a passed ball. Ashley Gust then sent an RBI single to right-center to make it a 4-2 score. However, Magruder's crew also stranded runners at second and third.
Wheeling Central manufactured a run in the third thanks to a leadoff Sarah Henry double and a pair of strikeouts. Henry advanced to third on a dropped third strike with the batter thrown out at first.
Pinch-runner Maria Olsen then scored on a second strikeout to make it 4-3, and Emily Wizba reached on error and went all the way to second. The Knights eventually caught up in the fourth, scoring another run on a dropped third strike, the third of the frame.
The comeback was complete in the fifth when Bennington ripped a leadoff triple down the right-field line and a pair of walks followed. With two down Emily Wizba reached on a fielder's choice to make it a 5-4 count.
Joni Zavolta then sent a two-run single down the first base line with a fourth run scoring a short time later on a wild pitch as the Maroon Knights pushed the lead to 8-4.
Central added a ninth run, its fifth in the fifth, when Robbins reached on a error allowing Zavolta to cross the dish.
''Brittany (Miller) really came alive after the first inning and everyone stepped it up,'' Magruder added. ''After that we played great defense, and even though we didn't hit the ball like we have been, we got things going.''
Ongley, meanwhile, was disappointed with the outcome and knows her squad needs to pick things up to be successful.
''One thing just seemed to lead to another and everything snowballed,'' Ongley said. ''The things that hurt us are things that we have got to take care of and stop before the tournament starts. Those things are killing us.
''We got the quick first inning lead and just let up. It seems like every time we get an early lead we just decide to take it easy and we have to stop doing that.''