WHEELING - For six innings, Saturday afternoon's Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 2A final had just about everything you would want from a championship game.
The pitching was solid, the defense nearly just as good and there were also a timely hit or two as a good crowd enjoyed the tightly played battle on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chambers Memorial Youth Sports Complex.
But with the score tied at 2-2 entering the top of the seventh, things suddenly unraveled, especially for Steubenville Catholic. Defending champion Wheeling Central took advantage of a huge break to explode for seven runs and then hang on for a 9-5 victory.
Central began what proved to be the game-winning rally on a solid single to left field by Brittany Miller. Paige Creamer, the standout Crusaders pitcher who had not issued a single base on balls and allowed just five hits to that point, suddenly lost control and walked Emily Wizba on four pitches. Laken Visnick moved up both runners with her well-placed sacrifice bunt and Creamer loaded the bases by walking Megan Griffin.
Joni Zavolta then tapped the ball in front of the plate where it was fielded by Creamer who threw the ball home to trying for a forceout.
However, courtesy runner Cara Stahl slid in safely when it was ruled that the catcher's foot was not in contact with home plate.
Before Steubenville Catholic could finally get the second and third outs of the inning, Wheeling Central had scored six more runs. Bri Robbins singled to left, extending the lead to 4-2. That was followed by Vanessa Saseen's third straight hit, this one a two-run single. An error, freshman Sydney Bennington's run-scoring double, a wild pitch that led to another run and Sarah Henry's RBI single capped the inning.
The Crusaders, top-seeded in the tournament, turned a walk, an error, wild pitch, Allee Vandeborne's single and Maddy Gulan's run-scoring double into three runs in the bottom of the seventh before Robbins' nice catch of Creamer's fly ball ended the contest.
''It was definitely a great game for six innings," said Central Coach Rick Magruder after Lady Maroon Knights extended their winning streak to 12 in a row and their overall record to 17-7 this season. ''You know what Steubenville Central is like. 'You've got to try and eliminate your mistakes because they are going to capitalze on them and they did on the few we made.
''We were fortunate enough to do the same thing on their mistakes and then we started hitting the ball at the right time."
The tough call at home plate in the seventh added to the misfortune that Crusaders had to deal with in the loss. With the score tied 1-1 earlier, Coach Jim DiCarlo's team lost a run he thought had scored on a wild pitch when Sammi Giannamore was sent back to third base because of hitter's interference. Allie Vandeborne was called out when she was ruled to have pulled her bat back and hit the catcher's mitt with runners at first and third and only one out in the bottom of the third inning.
''I was kind of baffled a little bit by both calls," DiCarlo said, ''But I told our kids we have to be good enough to overcome any adversity.
''We gave them some opportunities that we shouldn't have, but give Central credit. I don't want to stand here and complain about the umpires. If we had limited the damage in the last inning, we still could have won the game."
Both pitches were able to keep their opponents' formidable offenses under control for the most of the chilly afternoon.
Miller walked four, struck out three and yielded six hits with the only extra-base blows being doubles by freshman Ashlynne Daley and Gulan.
''I don't think Brittany had her best stuff, but she was just effective enough to keep them off balance," Magruder said. ''When she got in trouble, she made the pitches she needed to make to get them out.''
Miller also received some help from her defense as Saseen turned in a couple of good plays at third base while the outfield combination of Wizba in left, Robbins in center and Zavolta in right combined to track down seven fly balls. Wizba was especially busy in left as she recorded five putouts.
''Our freshman shortstop (Bennington) booted one but then came back and made a couple of nice plays and got a big hit in the seventh inning," Magruder noted.
''Paige Creamer pitched very well for us against a Wheeling Central team which has some great athletes and a lot of good hitters," DiCarlo stressed. ''We gave them a run on an error in the third inning and they got another on a throw to first base when their girl came home from third after a dropped third strike."
Creamer struck out seven and allowed just four hits until the fateful top of the seventh.
The Crusaders (16-5) scored first in the bottom of second after Creamer singled and courtesy runner Tori Knight came home when Daley found the left-center gap for a double.
Wheeling Central tied it in the top of the third after two errors and Saseen's two-out single on a ground ball to deep short that Micca Mirabella gloved but had no chance to make a play at first.
Steubenville Catholic regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth as Giannamore singled, Mirabella walked and a two-out error put the Crusaders in front 2-1.
The Maroon Knights got even in the sixth after Robbins and Saseen singled. Bennington fanned but had to be thrown out after the ball fell out of Clark's give. During the throw to first to retire Bennington, Robbins took off for home and beat the relay back to the plate.
Fort Frye pitcher Victoria Mimken was unhittable for the first three innings in Saturday's Class 3A OVAC softball championship against Magnolia, striking out nine of the first 10 batters.
But if there was one person in the home dugout that knew how to get to Mimken, it was first baseman Mallory Chapman.
Dallas Mullett broke up Mimken's no-hitter in the fourth inning with a single before Chapman hit a towering home run to right field three pitches later to give Magnolia a 2-0 lead.
Blue Eagles pitcher Tori Tharp and the defense did the rest as Magnolia won, 3-0, to win its third OVAC softball title and first since 2006.
''It feels tremendous and I feel happy for these seniors,'' said Magnolia coach Mark Batton, who won his first OVAC title since taking over as coach. ''We always seemed to stub our toe in the semifinals so I am real tickled to see them play in the championship game and to turn around and win it is just icing on the cake.
''We are going to enjoy this one for a day or so.''
For Chapman, it was the second home run against Mimken in a little more than a week.
In a doubleheader last week at Hydro Field in New Martinsville, the sophomore got the best of Mimken. Her home run this time was a little more important.
''I knew as soon as I hit it was gone,'' Chapman said. ''It felt so good. She is such a good pitcher and that makes it so hard to time her up. She will throw different pitches. She is very good. As a hitter, you have to be ready for anything.
''We were a little down because we usually hit. Coach Batton got us up and momentum really started to come our way.''
For the eighth time in school history, St. John Central is the queenpin of the OVAC Class A girls' softball field. The Lady Irish (18-4) tied Edison and John Marshall with eight titles after their methodical 6-0 whitewashing off Bishop Donahue Saturday morning on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Complex.
Only the Bishops (13) and Wheeling Central (10) have more championships. It was St. John Central's first championship since the 2007 season.
"These girls stepped up today. I can't be any happier with a group of girls," veteran Irish head coach Jerry Magistro said. "When we started this back in the winter, we didn't have the numbers and we had some injuries. We had a lot of freshmen who had to play, and some kids even played hurt.
"So, with everything that's gone on this season, and where we are now, I'm just so happy for these kids," he continued. "I'm sure there were a lot of people out there that didn't think we'd get this far, or do this good, but these freshmen getting to play in a big game like this gives them even more experience for the years to come.
"They grew up fast this year," he said of his four frosh. "I never thought it was going to come, but these girls (freshmen) have really worked hard."
While most of the talk centered around his first-year players, sophomore Hannah Absalom, who sat out her freshman season due to injury, continued her dominance from inside the circle.
The hard-throwing Absalom struck out 16 Bishops, one less than she did against Conotton Valley in a semifinal victory. She was perfect for 3 innings before walking Abby Randolph on a 3-2 pitch. She then retired the next seven Bishops before yielding a two-out single to shallow left by Tess Fallova, who was erased attempting to steal by veteran Irish catcher Rosa Young.
Absalom gave up a leadoff single to Randolph to start the seventh, but struck out the side to end the game.
Wheeling Central 9, Steubenville Catholic 5
Wheeling Central 001 001 7 - 9 9 2
Steubenville Catholic 010 010 3 - 5 6 4
WHEELING CENTRAL: Miller (WP, 3K, 4BB) and Visnick; Zavolta rbi; Robbins 2S, rbi; Saseen 3S, 3rbi; Bennington S, D, rbi; Henry S, rbi.
STEUBENVILLE CENTRAL: Creamer (LP, 7K, 3BB) and Clark; Vandeborne 2S; Gulan D, rbi; Daley D, rbi.
Magnolia 3, Fort Frye 0
Fort Frye 000 000 0 - 0 7 0
Magnolia 000 201 x - 3 4 0
FORT FRYE: Mimken (LP, 13K, 1BB) and Miller; L.Huck S, D; Baker S, D.
MAGNOLIA: Tharp (WP, 7K, 0BB) and Bosley; Bosley T; Chapman HR, 3rbi.
St. John Central 6, Bishop Donahue 0
Bishop Donahue 000 000 0 - 0 2 3
St. John Central 112 200 x - 6 4 0
BISHOP DONAHUE: Guzek (LP, 0K, 8BB) and Scott; Fallova S; Randolph S.
ST. JOHN CENTRAL: Absalom (WP, 16K, 1BB) and Young; Absalom S, T; Coppa 2S, 2rbi; Young rbi.