WHEELING - With a ton of speed and ability, Steubenville Catholic can play small ball with the best of them on the softball diamond. But the Crusaders can also do so much more and Cameron found that out the hard way Wednesday.
Half of Catholic Central's six hits were bunts while Maddy Gulan launched a long home run and collected four RBI as the Crusaders advanced to the OVAC Class 2A championship game with a 6-1 victory against the Dragons on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Sports Complex.
Coach Jim DiCarlo's top-seeded Crusaders (17-4) will be looking for their first conference title since 2009 when they take on defending champion Wheeling Central at 12:15 p.m. Saturday, back at Lisa's Field.
Meanwhile, Coach Mark Witzberger's Cameron (19-6) squad tasted defeat in the OVAC Tournament for the first time since 2008, having won the previous three Class A crowns.
The Dragons received a leadoff double from Cassidi Richmond in the top of the first, but stranded her at third. Catholic Central, meanwhile, had a little more success in its half.
Micca Mirabella reached on a bunt single and quickly stole second before moving to third on a fielder's choice.
The Crusaders took a 1-0 lead on Taylor Clark's RBI bunt base hit.
Clark also took second and advanced to third on a wild pitch before scoring on Gulan's sacrifice fly to right field for a 2-0 count.
Witzberger's squad got out of a major jam unscathed in the second. Again using the bunt following a leadoff walk, Steubenville Catholic loaded the bases with one out. But a caught stealing at the plate on a wild pitch and a Paczewski strikeout prevented any further damage.
"We wasted some opportunities and left some runners on, but we felt coming in that we could steal and we like to use our speed and it definitely helped," DiCarlo said. "On the other side, we played some very good defense and Paige (Creamer) pitched very well."
Cameron got one back in the third on a one-out Lexi Aston single, a walk to Richmond and Shenai Wade's bunt single that filled the sacks. Paczewski then hit into a fielder's choice with an errant throw allowing Richmond to cross to cut the deficit to 2-1.
A leadoff walk to Clark to begin the third came back to haunt Paczewski when Gulan blasted a moon-shot over the center-field fence to push the lead to 4-1.
The Crusaders added some insurance in the sixth, scoring a run on a wild pitch and another on Gulan's RBI fielder's choice, her fourth of the contest.
Steubenville Catholic stole eight bases, and repeatedly moved around the bases at will.
"Cameron is a very good team that had won six straight OVAC games coming in and we knew it would be a battle, and it was close in the middle innings, but we got some big outs when we needed them and some clutch hits,'' DiCarlo said
Witzberger, meanwhile, knew what his team was getting into with the Crusaders and thought experience was the difference.
''Honestly, we just don't play enough games against teams like that and I think our lack of experience against it showed,'' Witzberger said. ''They have speed all the way around and they are a team built for the short game and running the bases.
''I felt like Tara pitched well and we had plenty of opportunities that we just didn't take advantage of. Sometimes this is a game of inches and it just didn't go our way.''