BELMONT -In terms of selecting the starting lineup for Friday's Class A, Region IV final, everything just fell into place for Wheeling Central.
Unfortunately for St. Marys, several fielding chances didn't go as planned and the Maroon Knights took advantage in winning 5-2. The Blue Devils, who ended the season at 23-9, committed five errors. Two of those miscues occurred during Wheeling Central's three-run first inning, and it was an uphill battle the rest of the way.
"We dug ourselves a hole that we just couldn't get out of," St. Marys coach John Mike Nichols said. "I tell the girls, when you find yourself at the bottom of a hole quit digging. And we just couldn't get out of that hole."
Photo by Kerry Patrick
St. Marys pitcher Mariah Martin delivers a pitch during the Blue Devils’ 5-2 loss to Wheeling Central in the Class A, Region IV final in Belmont.
As for putting the right people in the right spots, Wheeling Central coach Rick Magruder was on the mark.
Cara Stahl, who recently had surgery, was cleared by the doctors as late as Thursday morning, and the second baseman responded by going 3-for-4 at the plate with a double and a run scored.
But perhaps the best gametime decision made by Magruder involved his starting pitching. It was Madison Basinger's turn in the rotation, but there still was uncertainty whether she would get the call. She did, and not only did the junior earn the decision but she also struck out 12 batters and walked none.
After a one-year hiatus, Wheeling Central (21-8) returns to the state tournament next Wednesday and Thursday in Vienna.
"Last year, we relied a lot on a senior, and this year we were determined to go with both Madison Basinger and Sarah Henry," Magruder said. "St. Marys jumped on (Henry) last year, so even though it was Madison's turn in the rotation it was hard to decide because Sarah is a senior. But she accepted it and she supports Madison, and that's what they've done all year."
Wheeling Central was ready from the outset. Lead-off hitter Joni Zavolta fell behind in the count 0-2 before drawing a walk. After Stahl singled to put runners on first and second, Allie Cook followed with an RBI base hit.
One out later, Stahl scored on an infield grounder which advanced Cook to third with two outs. St. Marys pitcher Mariah Martin appeared to get out of any further damage, but Henry reached on an error which plated Cook.
In the top of the fourth inning, the Maroon Knights struck again without a ball reaching the outfield. Henry was hit by a pitch to open the frame and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs and Henry stationed at third base, a third infield error by St. Marys brought home Henry and left the Blue Devils trailing 4-0.
After Basinger retired the first nine batters she faced, St. Marys started to show some life by loading the bases with one out in the bottom half of the fourth inning. However, a strikeout followed by a fielder's choice put an end to the threat.
The Blue Devils finally broke through in the fifth with two runs. Sami Crowed led off with a single and scored on Sammi Clayton's one-out triple. Mikayla Hearn's ground out brought home Clayton for the second Blue Devil run.
Yet another unearned run in the seventh put Wheeling Central in front 5-2.
St. Marys didn't go away quietly as Martin and Crowe started the inning with consecutive singles. However, Basinger turned it up another notch and retired the next two batters on strikeouts and fielded a tapper back to the mound for the final out.
The Blue Devils graduate four seniors (Mariah Martin, Mikayla Hearn, Amy Childers and Abbi Fetty).
"This senior class finished with 95 wins - they the standard at St. Marys High School," Nichols said. "They have set the bar high where other classes should strive to duplicate or beat. "