WHEELING - The Magnolia baseball team was a little rusty when it the made a trip to the J.B. Chambers I-470 complex for its regional semifinal against Wheeling Central.
To the Blue Eagles' credit, they hadn't played for nearly three weeks.
''We only played one five-inning game in the past 17 days,'' Magnolia coach Dave Cisar said. ''Because of the WESTEST and all that other stuff, we haven't played much. A lot of teams at this time of year who played a lot of games in April, you end up getting stale in the first couple weeks of May because you haven't played a lot.''
Photo by Tony Viola
Magnolia catcher Grant Cain prepares to make the catch on a foul ball as home-plate umpire Butch Minkemeyer looks on Monday.
It took all of six innings, but the Blue Eagles got their groove back, the same one that helped them win 19 straight earlier this season, and were able to knock off Wheeling Central, 3-1, in Wheeling on Monday.
''This was a heckuva baseball game,'' Cisar noted. ''Give Wheeling Central a great, great deal of credit. They were the better team through the first five-and-a-half innings. They played very, very well. But I'm proud of my guys 'cause we hung in there.
''There's no style points in winning.''
If any Blue Eagle earned any style points in this one, it was Chandler Sapp.
The junior ended the day batting .500 and drove in three runs, including two in the seventh.
After Ryan Walton loaded the bases on a walk, Sapp ripped one into right field that gave Derrick Blain and Drew Keller enough time to score.
''That kid just threw the bat out there and happened to hit a typical single with the infield in,'' Central coach Jimbo Wodusky said. ''If the infield is back, then that's a groundball to the second baseman. That's just the chance you take when you bring the infield in.''
Still, trailing 3-1 in the home half of the seventh, the Marron Knights (10-20) had a chance.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Jeff Gywnn stepped up to the plate and on the first pitch, grounded out to first.
''I felt that even in the last inning with the bases loaded, even though I had a young freshman in there batting, I though that this kid's due for a hit,'' Wodusky said. ''Anything can happen in this game. It never crossed my mind that it was over.''
It did Cisar's in the sixth.
A Tanner Hanna bunt loaded the bases for the Blue Eagles, and after Chase Miller struck out, Kyle Elliott attempted a squeeze but was tagged out by the catcher, who then threw to J. D. Griffith to tag out Brantley Hissam at third.
''That's the first time in about 43 years that I've had a double play on a squeeze play,'' Cisar pointed out. ''I haven't seen that one before. And I'm sitting there thinking, 'Man, I blew it.' But, I'm still thinking, 'I've got to be aggressive. We've got to steal second base. We've got to do this, we've got to do that.'
''You get a big, clutch hit and that changes the ball game, but if you make a big, clutch error, that still changes the complexion of the ball game.''
Magnolia had already learned that lesson in the fourth when a throwing error left Nick Naumann safe at first. One out later, Derek Yocke doubled to drive him in to give the Knights a 1-0 lead.
The Blue Eagles answered back in the fifth when Walton scored off a Sapp hit into right field.
''We were kinda shaky at a position here and there making the routine play,'' Cisar said. ''I've told the guys all year if you make the routine play, you've got a chance to win. But, let's give Wheeling Central a lot of credit. They battled, fought and scratched right to the very end, even with the tying run on first base. That was a real good high school baseball game.''
The victory advances Magnolia to the Region One title game. The only thing standing between the Blue Eagles and a state tournament berth is St. Marys. The two will face off in New Martinsville on Wednesday.