Knights stay hot, eliminate Blue Dons
WEIRTON — Ever since Wheeling Central was three outs away from elimination Monday evening and bounced back, it has been clicking on all cylinders the last two games in Weirton.
Following an eight-run victory Tuesday to force a do-or-die Class A Region 1 Section 1 championship, the Maroon Knights scored in double digits again to defeat Madonna, 11-8, on Wednesday.
“We have a resilient bunch of kids. We were three outs away from going home (Monday). We came back, they worked hard, they’re a positive group and got the hits when needed,” Central head coach Jason Rowe said. “We have a great group of four seniors that have led us the entire way.”
Central will begin the regional tournament Monday against Winfield.
Eight out of the nine Knights in the starting lineup recorded at least one RBI, and a different set of eight tallied at least one hit. Ben Foster was decent enough on the mound to get the win, and Nick Tsoras took off his catcher’s gear to earn a save.
The Blue Dons, meanwhile, did not receive great pitching from their deep rotation. In the field, they committed six errors, and Central took advantage of five of them.
“You look at what happened throughout the course of the year, and it played itself out (Wednesday),” Madonna coach Jeff Baire said. “We didn’t make the routine plays like the middle of the year when it cost us games. When you make those mistakes in the playoffs against a quality team, we were lucky to be only down by three. That also, though, speaks to the grit our team showed.”
Central held a 2-1 advantage after one inning, and it stayed that way until the Blue Dons took their only lead with a three-run third.
Lucky Pulice and Matt Amaismeier ripped back-to-back one-out singles to set up Dom Brncic’s RBI base knock. Ethan Rowing drove a run home on a sacrifice bunt and reached when the throw from first went directly to the catcher. Luke Amaismeier then recorded an RBI single, but Rowing was gunned down trying to score.
That did not faze the Knights, however, as they took advantage of more miscues — including two errors on one play — and plated four in the top of the fourth.
Peyton Toepfer drew a leadoff walk and scored shortly thereafter on a throwing error to first base. The other three runs came through RBI singles from Colby Hartman, Jordan Waterhouse, and Michael Toepfer.
Madonna starter Tyler Starvaggi, who threw a no-hitter against Cameron one week ago to open the tournament, could not escape the jam. He took the loss and allowed six runs (three earned) on six hits, three walks and struck out three.
Matt Amaismeier relieved and cooled the bats down until the top of the fifth. Central scored five times to take an 11-5 lead, and this time every run was earned.
Foster and Peyton Toepfer provided run-scoring singles, Payton Hildebrand a sacrifice fly and Eli Tucker a two-run knock.
“We’ve been mixing our lineup up a little bit,” Rowe said. “Colby has been struggling in the five and six holes, so we moved him to eighth, and it’s kind of worked out. Eli Tucker has been solid for us all year, and we’re positive with him in the nine hole.”
The Blue Dons got three of those runs back in the bottom of the sixth with two outs. Pulice roped a two-run double, and Brncic hit an RBI single.
Chase Littleton collected a sac fly in the bottom of the fourth to cut the deficit to 6-5 at that point.
“We’re just hitting it well, putting it in play and getting into good counts,” Rowe said. “We’ve been deep into counts, and (Madonna) has unbelievable pitchers. They’re a great ball club, and I can’t say enough about Jeff Baire.
“This was us about five or six games ago making the errors. We’re capitalizing on them now.”
Foster went 5 2/3 frames and allowed eight runs on 10 hits, one walk and struck out three. Tsoras got his club out of the sixth, allowed a leadoff double to Luke Amaismeier in the seventh and punched out the next three hitters in a row.
“For us to battle and to stay where we were in this ballgame, I’m proud of these guys,” Baire said. “I’ve said before how we battled, were down in games and gave ourselves a chance at the end. I know this much — we’re a much better team now than where we started to begin the season.
“We came out of the summer as a team that looked scary, and not in the good way. By the end of the year, regardless of what the record shows, we were a competitive team nearly every team we went on the field.”
Wednesday marked the final high school game for Madonna seniors Starvaggi, Brncic, Pulice, Rowing and Thomas Sessi. The team was without No. 3 hitter Mason Thompson and speedster Coleton Littleton for the second straight game due to injuries.
Wheeling Central 11, Madonna 8
Central 2-0-0 4-0-5 0 — 11 12 1
Madonna 1-0-3 1-0-3 0 — 8 12 6
WHEELING CENTRAL: Foster (WP, 5 2/3IP, 8R, 10H, 1BB, 3K), Tsoras (SV, 1 1/3IP, 0R, 2H, 0BB, 3K) and Tsoras, Hartman (6). Waterhouse S, D, RBI; Tsoras S; M. Toepfer 2S, RBI; Yocum S, RBI; Foster S, RBI; P. Toepfer S, D, RBI; Hildebrand RBI; Hartman S, RBI; Tucker 2S, 2RBIs.
MADONNA: Starvaggi (LP, 3 1/3IP, 6R (3ER), 6H, 3BB, 3K), M. Amaismeier (2 1/3IP, 5R, 6H, 3BB, 3K), Brncic (1 1/3IP, 0R, 0H, 0BB, 0K) and Brncic, Starvaggi (6). Pulice S, D, 2RBIs; M. Amaismeier 2S; Brncic 3S, 2RBIs; Rowing S, 2RBIs; L. Amaismeier 2S, RBI; Reinacher S; Littleton D, RBI.