WHEELING - Exploding for 14 hits against one of the area's premier softball pitchers during the last four years, Wheeling Central Catholic rallied late to take charge in Thursday night's West Virginia Class A Region One semifinal on Lisa's Field at the JB Chambers 1-470 Complex.
The Maroon Knights scored four times with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning and broke through for five more runs during their next turn at bat before holding on for an 11-7 victory.
With Tara Paczewski twirling from the circle for the Dragons against Wheeling Central ace Brittany Miller, the last thing anyone could have expected was a game that featured 18 runs and 23 hits.
Wheeling Central’s Brittany Miller prepares to make contact Thursday.
Photo by Rick Thorp
''If somebody told me that before the game, I would have said they were crazy,'' Maroon Knights coach Rick Magruder said. ''But I've been telling our girls that if you keep putting the ball in play, good things are going to happen.''
Excellent results have been the story of the 2012 season to this point for Magruder's defending Region One champions as this marked their 16th victory in a row after Central had gotten out of the gate slowly with a 5-7 record.
Magruder's team will return to Lisa's Field at 5:30 on Thursday for the regional final against either St. Marys and Gilmer County.
Also surprised at the turn of events was Cameron coach Mark Witzberger.
''Really, the ball was flying off the bats of both teams,'' he said. ''I feel sad for Tara to go out like this. She's been battling pneumonia and a few other things that she hasn't told anybody about. I admire her for the way she battled out there. Central's a good hitting team and we can't take anything away from them.''
Although Miller was tagged for nine hits, none of the runs Cameron (22-7) put up on the board were earned. Trailing 1-0 entering the top of the third, the Dragons scored four times after a double-error on a routine ground ball to shortstop.
Cassidi Richmond's sacrifice fly to right would have been the third out of the inning but ended up bringing home the tying run. This was followed by a walk to Shenai Wade and four straight hits, all singles by Paczewski, Linda Hall, Taylor Whipkey and Lexi Benline.
Hall's single plated two runs while Benline's to left field brought home the fourth run of the inning.
After falling behind 11-4 entering the top of the seventh, Cameron tacked on three more unearned runs. Two errors were sandwiched around a walk to Whipkey and Natalie Trowbridge followed with an RBI single before Miller left the circle and caught a pop fly along the third base line to end the inning and the game.
''Give our girls credit, they battled all the way through the game and never quit,'' Witzberger added.
Early in the game, the Maroon Knights were able to scratch out a couple of runs. Ashley Gast singled to open the second inning, moved up a base on a wild pitch and rode home when Miller hit a bomb off the left-field fence that went for a triple.
Central then got within 4-2 in the bottom of the third as Megan Griffin singled and later scored on Vanessa Saseen's line drive that whistled past the glove of Richmond at shortstop.
Zavolta, who had opened the game defensively with an excellent running catch in right field to rob Richmond of an extra-base hit, ignited the Maroon Knights game-winning rally with a solid single to left field. Paczewski then retired the next two hitters on a ground out and strikeout, before the next five Central batters reached base.
Gast's single made it 4-3 and Sydney Bennington brought the tying run home with a double on a shot off the glove of Lexi Aston in left field. Miller helped out her own cause again with a base hit to center that put the Maroon Knights ahead to stay. Sarah Henry struck out but reached on a passed ball, which was followed by Laken Visnick's RBI single.
The Dragons, who played errorless ball through the first five innings, had three miscues in the sixth as Central opened the lead to 11-4. Zavolta, Bri Robbins, Saseen and Gast all had hits in the inning. Robbins and Gast knocked in runs with theirs, while Saseen added two more RBI, giving her three for the game.
The Maroon Knights' ability to lay off the off-speed pitches was a key to their success against Paczewski.
''After a while we started telling the girls not to swing at the changeup and make her come back with the faster stuff,'' Magruder noted. ''We were surprised she threw so many off-speed pitches but she might have been concerned about the way our middle of the order was hitting the ball.''
Central's 3-6 batters combined for eight hits and eight runs batted in.
The Maroon Knights offense is one reason why Magruder has high hopes they can make a run at a state title if they advance past the regional for the second year in a row.
''We definitely hit the ball better than last year,'' Magruder said. ''Except for that last inning, we also catch it pretty well. Megan made a couple of nice plays and Joni had a great catch in the first inning. Brit threw another excellent game. I just hope we can keep it up.''