STEUBENVILLE - Years from now the student-athletes at Linsly will be able to look back fondly at the 2011-2012 school year as that remarkable ''Championship Season."
On a chilly Friday night at Vaccaro Field, the veteran Cadets baseball team exploded early for a seven-run lead and allowed its stellar defense and effective pitching to take over from there during a 7-2 victory against Steubenville Catholic Central in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference 2A championship game.
The triumph brought the Wheeling private school its ninth OVAC title of the current school year, following championship pennants earned in football, boys' basketball, cheering, girls' soccer, boys' and girls' swimming and boys' and girls' tennis.
Linsly’s Leighton Gibson receives congratulations from Coach Jay Cartwright after hitting a home run Friday.
Better yet for the followers of the Linsly athletic teams, the Cadets may even add to this impressive accomplishment. Both the school's boys' and girls' track squads also figure to be very much in the running in the upcoming bi-state league's championship meets. Also, Coach Jay Cartwright's baseball club also may get an opportunity to play for an EOBL title before putting away its equipment.
''I'm very proud of these guys,'' Cartwright said after the Linsly put the finishing touches on its third OVAC title since he took over the helm six years ago. ''This is a great group of kids to be around.''
Overall, the Cadets have been conference baseball champions a total of 16 occasions, the first 13 coming under his predecessor Gary Sprauge, who watched proudly from the stands this time.
''After we didn't even make the playoffs last year, the 13 seniors on this team came back very determined to get this one,'' Cartwright continued.
Linsly's vaunted offense came out on fire, rocking Steubenville Catholic starting pitcher Steve Mihalyo for seven runs and eight hits the first two innings.
The Cadets batted around in the bottom of the first, getting things going when Haydon Stanley drew a one-out walk. Heavy-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop Alex Stephens saw something he liked on Mihalyo's next pitch, belting a long drive over the head of Crusaders center fielder Brannt Pianiazek. Circling the bases for the game's first run was Stanley, while Stephens used his quick wheels to slide into third base for an easy triple.
The fun was beginning for the Linsly offense. Leighton Gibson's ground ball to the right side scored Stephens and the next four batters hit safely. Michael Joseph and Neil Tennant followed with singles and both scored when designated hitter Ryan Riethmiller doubled down the right-field line.
Leading 4-0 entering the bottom of the second, the Cadets struck quickly again. Stanley and Stephens laced back-to-back singles, bringing up Gibson. Another Linsly player with a lot of sock in his bat, Gibson connected for a moon shot, three-run homer over the fence to the right of the 360-foot mark in center field.
Linsly jumping on an opposing starting pitcher early in the game is something Cartwright has witnessed most of the year.
''We have experiencd hitters and experienced players and we come out wanting to be aggressive in every game,'' he pointed out.
Cartwright could have said the same thing about the Cadets' pitching and stellar defense that erased all hope the Crusaders had of a possible comeback. Junior pitcher Momo Felt held Steubenville Catholic without a hit through the first four innings but still needed some sparkling plays in the field to keep this game from being a lot closer.
In the opening inning, Felt walked two and was bailed out on a sharp 4-6-3 double play turned with freshman second baseman Colton Coss fielding Jimmy Panella's hard grounder and feeding Stephens, who used his strong arm to nip the runner at first base.
The defensive gem of the game and probably the season, came in the third inning with Coss, Stephens and first baseman Gibson executing another sparkling 4-6-3 twin-killing. This one came after Felt hit both Panella and Dave Bertoia with pitches that came too far inside.
Alex Porreca then shot a one-hopper toward the middle that seemed destined for an RBI single when Coss made a diving stop, flipped the ball to Stephens coming across the bag and the senior shortstop again gunned the ball to Gibson at first for still another inning-ending double play.
''Stephens and Coss have been an excellent combination for us,'' Cartwright said. ''But that had to be the best double play I've seen all year on any level.''
Steubenville Catholic (16-5) finally broke through for singles by Adam Lyons, Pieniazek and B.J. Grandinetti to get on the scoreboard in the top of the fifth. Once again, a big defensive play took them out of the inning. This time Dillon Williams did the honors, racing in from right field, reaching down and stabbing Mihalyo's bid for another base hit.
''We couldn't get a bounce when we needed something to give us a little more energy,'' Crusaders coach Donnie Young said. ''It's tough to come back when you are down 7-0. We never quit. We kept getting guys on and just could not get that big hit.
''We have not been on a big stage like this and our guys came out a little bit in awe. Once we settled in, I thought we played pretty well. Steven (Mihalyo) doesn't usually leave the ball up like he did. When he did, they hit them a long way. They're a very good team.''
Jimmy Brinsky took over on the mound for Felt in the sixth inning and finished off a victory, although he yielided one run in the seventh as Grandinetti was hit by a pitch and later scored on Panella's base hit. But just as Stephens has done throughout his sparkling four-year career, the Linsly shortstop came running in to field Bertoia's slow hit ball and delivered another hard, accurate throw to first for the game-ending out.
Stephens collected his third hit in the fourth inning, while Tennant also had a multi-hit game with a single and double as the Cadets improved their record to 19-5.