WHEELING - A season ago, St. Marys softball coach John Mike Nichols watched Wheeling Central celebrate on his field following a heart-breaking, 1-0, loss in the West Virginia Class A Region One championship game.
So heading into Thursday's rematch Nichols was hoping his team could get off to a quick start and build some early momentum.
And after arriving at the field late due to construction on Route 7, the Blue Devils did exactly that in rolling to an easier-than-expected victory against the streaking Maroon Knights.
Wheeling Central’s Bri Robbins, right, gets back to first ahead of a tag by St. Mary’s Kristy Mixer on Thursday.
Photo by Rick Thorp
St. Marys collected five hits, four of them for extra bases, and pushed across four runs in the top of the first and never looked back in pounding Wheeling Central, 9-1, in six innings on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chamber's I-470 Sports Complex to advance to the Class A state tournament next week in Vienna.
The victory sends the Devils to the state tournament with a 26-4 record while Coach Rick Magruder watched his team's 16-game winning streak come to an end and its season conclude at 21-8.
Following the game, Nichols joked about his team's late arrival, but also mentioned how important the trip up-river turned out to be.
''First of all I want to thank God and the Ohio Department of Transportation,'' Nichols said with a smile. ''But honestly, getting stuck in traffic made the girls have to stretch and get loose on the bus and I think it really helped us come together as a team.
''We all had fun on the ride here and I think when we got here we went out on the field and played the same way. The girls adopted a new motto on Wednesday, ''Whatever it takes, and then some,'' and we lived by that (Thursday).''
The first inning turned out to be pivotal for both teams, especially the Blue Devils.
It took no time for St. Marys to establish command in the top of the first with a pair of triples, two doubles, an infield single and four runs.
Boogie Grose led off with a triple and scored the first run on Britani Chamber's sacrifice bunt. Abbi Fetty followed with a one-out double and moved to third on a fielder's choice. Amy Childer's run-scoring triple to right made it 2-0 with Morgan Fuenty following with an infield single to plate the third.
The lead grew to 4-0 on Jenna Steele's RBI double.
''I told the girls that they couldn't hold back and give Wheeling Central any confidence,'' Nichols added. ''We had to jump on them early because one or two runs wasn't going to win this game this year.
''They are such a strong team and everyone we talked to this week told us they can hit the ball all through the lineup. But we stepped up, put something together early and made it stand.''
St. Marys added another in the second thanks to a pair of one-out Maroon Knights fielding errors to push the count to 5-0.
''They really came out hitting the ball,'' Magruder said. ''And then we made some mistakes to help them out. You can't always allow yourself to get down and have to fight back against good teams.
''St. Marys hit the ball very hard, played very solid defense and got a good pitching performance. Their pitcher did a heckuva job. But all in all there really isn't a whole lot you can say. They just made the plays they had to make.''
Nichols' squad took advantage of more Central errors in the fifth when Abbi Fetty reached on a leadoff error, went to third on Bethani Chamber's single and scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-0. A walk and a fielder's choice made things worse, loading the bases with no one out.
However, a liner back to Brittany Miller and a quick throw to third completed the double play to calm things down before Miller got out of the jam one batter later.
Chamber's single in the fifth was the first allowed by Miller since the first inning.
Central finally came to life in the fifth, getting a double down the left-field line by Sarah Henry to get it started. Pinch-runner Shelby Main advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Emily Wizba's base hit to left to cut it to 6-1.
A walk to Joni Zavolta put runners at first and second with one out with both runners moving up on a fielder's choice. But Cokeley got possibly the biggest out of the contest when Vanessa Saseen flew out to center to end the inning.
St. Marys then went to work on putting things away in the sixth, pushing across three more with a trio of base hits, a hit batter and a wild pitch to extend the margin to 9-1.
Senior pitcher Mandy Cokeley allowed five hits, including four singles, two of the infield variety, while fanning five and walking two in getting a victory.
''It's never easy after you lose a game like this,'' Magruder said. ''But you have to give these girls so much credit. When we were 5-7 a lot of people had already written us off. But we went on a nice winning streak and got back to the regional finals.
''It turned out to be a great season for us. Unfortunately it was just not meant to be.''