Catholic Central claims second straight crown

WHEELING – Taking the mound early on Saturday morning, Alex McComb may have felt a little misty-eyed, torpid or just a bit shaky.

“At first,” the Steubenville Catholic Central pitcher said, “I was a little nervous.”

But pitching in a big game, like an OVAC 3A title tilt, is nothing new to McComb.

“After I threw a couple pitches I realized that I had been here before,” she said. “I was ready to go.”

Her quickly found confidence and early hits from the Crusaders ensured their back-to-back OVAC championships and sixth in school history.

Central cruised by Bellaire, 8-0, and improved their record to 12-4 on the year.

“Our kids were really focused and the key was getting timely hits, especially in the first inning,” said Crusaders coach Jim DiCarlo. “Their pitcher had a few command problems and we were patient enough to get a few walks.

“Megan Lloyd and Matty Metcalf then got some big hits with two outs.”

Micca Mirabella was hit on a pitch from Bellaire starter Daphne Clark to lead off the bottom of the first inning. Clark then issued two-straight walks to Fran Capaldi and Maddy Gulan.

Clark settled down and got the next two batters to fly out to centerfield before Megan Lloyd stepped to the plate.

“Going up, I was trying to stay calm with two outs,” Lloyd said. “All the batters who went before me were anxious to try and get a hit because we were prepared for her pitches.

“I worked to a 3-1 count. I was looking for my pitch and I got it.”

She ripped a double to left field that cleared the bases, giving Central an early lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.

“Hitting really is contagious,” Lloyd said.

The Crusaders added another run when the next batter, Maddy Metcalf, plated Lloyd on a single up the middle.

“With our spirit up, we’re capable of getting hit after hit,” Lloyd said. “It just keeps going.”

Central sent nine batters to the plate in the fourth inning when it scored four more runs.

Micca Mirabella brought home her sister, Shayna Mirabella, on a double with one out. Then, Gulan collected a pair of RBIs on a single to the right side. Ashlynne Daley added another RBI single later in the inning to close the scoring.

“The pressure was off a little,” Gulan said. “Having a nice lead eased everything. Alex was more calm and we had more confidence backing her up.

“We don’t stop playing no matter what, though. We expect to win every game. After that first inning we had a good feeling, but we weren’t going to stop trying to do more.”

McComb finished with seven strikeouts, allowing just two hits – coming in the first and fourth innings – and not issuing a walk.

“Alex pitched a really good game,” DiCarlo said. “She had good command of the three pitches we use and her change up was very effective.

“We have been playing better defensively and Alex helped that because balls weren’t hit with a lot of authority.”

The Crusaders won last year’s OVAC 3A title with an 8-7 win over Wheeling Central. McComb also got the win in that game, with the help of three runs in the bottom of the seventh, to walk it off.

“Yeah,” Micca Mirabella said. “This was a lot less dramatic.”

Central has advanced to the regional tournament the past two seasons. Last year, it fell to Bloom-Carroll – the eventual state champion – in the regional semi.

“Having that experience helped a ton, honestly,” Mirabella added. “Going to regionals, winning OVACs before and all of our accomplishments helped us handle a big game like this better.

“We know how to handle the situations in a nice and calm manner.”

Gabby Capaldi added a single and double for the Crusaders. DiCarlo was able to get every player on the roster in the game.

“We felt we were tournament-tested already,” DiCarlo said. “Our two seniors (Gulan and Micca Mirabella) had a really good OVAC tournament. “We knew that things were going to be tough, starting with Magnolia and everybody handled it well.”