WHEELING - With a ton of speed and ability, Steubenville Catholic Central can play small-ball with the best of them on the softball diamond, but the Crusaders can also do so much more, and Cameron found that out the hard way Wednesday afternoon.
Half of Catholic Central's six hits were of the bunt variety while Maddy Gulan launched a long home run and collected four RBIs as the Crusaders advanced to the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class AA championship game with a 6-1 victory over the Dragons on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chamber's I-470 Sports Complex.
Head Coach Jim DiCarlo's top-seeded 17-4 record squad will be looking for its first conference crown since 2009 when it takes on defending champion Wheeling Central Saturday at 12:15 p.m. back at Lisa's Field.
NOT GETTING HOME — Steubenville Catholic Central catcher Taylor Clark is ready to catch the throw and apply the tag to Cameron’s Linda Hull during Wednesday’s 6-1 win over the Dragons.
-- Rick Thorp
Meanwhile, Coach Mark Witzberger's Cameron (19-6) squad tasted defeat in the OVAC tournament for the first time since 2008, having won the previous three Class A crowns.
The Dragons managed to get a leadoff double from Cassidi Richmond in the top of the first, but stranded her at third. Catholic Central, meanwhile, had a little more success in its half of the frame.
Playing small-ball, Micca Mirabella reached on a bunt single and quickly stole second before moving to third on a fielder's choice. The Crusaders then took a 1-0 lead on Taylor Clark's RBI bunt base hit.
Clark also took second and advanced to third on a wild pitch before scoring on Gulan's run-producing sacrifice fly to deep right field and a 2-0 count.
Witzberger's squad got out of a major jam unscathed in the second. Once again using the bunt following a lead-off walk, Central loaded the bases with one out. But a caught stealing at the plate on a wild pitch and a Paczewski strikeout prevented any further damage.
Cameron managed to get one back in the third on a one-out Lexi Aston single, a walk to Richmond and Shenai Wade's bunt single that filled the sacks. Paczewski then hit into a fielder's choice with an errant throw allowing Richmond to cross to cut the deficit to 2-1.
A leadoff walk to Clark to begin the home-half of the third came back to haunt Paczewski when Gulan blasted a moon-shot deep over the center field fence to push the lead to 4-1.
The Crusaders added some insurance in the sixth, scoring a run on a wild pitch and another on Gulan's RBI fielder's choice, her fourth of the contest.
Steubenville Central stole a total of eight bases in the game, and repeatedly moved around the bases at will.
"We wasted some opportunities and left some runners on, but we felt coming in that we could steal and we like to use our speed and it definitely helped," DiCarlo said.
"On the other side we played some very good defense and Paige (Creamer) pitched very well.
"Cameron is a very good team that had won six straight OVAC games coming in and we knew it would be a battle and it was close in the middle innings, but we got some big outs when we needed them and some clutch hits."
Witzberger, meanwhile, knew what his team was getting into with the Crusaders and thought experience was the difference.
"Honestly, we just don't play enough games against teams like that and I think our lack of experience against it showed," Witzberger admitted. "They have speed all the way around and they are a team built for the short game and running the bases.
"I felt like Tara (Paczewski) pitched well and we had plenty of opportunities that we just didn't take advantage of. Sometimes this is a game of inches and it just didn't go our way (Wednesday)."
As for Saturday's opponent, DiCarlo realizes that his team will be in for a fight against the defending champion Maroon Knights.
"I believe Wheeling Central is one of the best hitting teams in the entire valley," DiCarlo added. "They have put together a winning streak and are playing very well and I think it will be a very competitive game."
Steubenville Catholic Central 6, Cameron 1
Cameron 001 000 0 - 1 6 4
Catholic Central 202 002 x - 6 6 2
CAMERON: Paczewski (LP, 5K, 3BB) and Benline; Richmond S, D; Wade S; Hall T; Aston 2S.
CATHOLIC?CENTRAL: Creamer (WP, 2K, 3BB) and Clark. Mirabella 2S; Clark S, rbi; Gulan HR, 4rbi; Creamer S; Vandeborne S;