VIENNA — The Man High School softball team had Wheeling Central right where it wanted.
Up 2-0 with a two-run top of the sixth the Lady Billies had the undefeated Maroon Knights on their heels.
A couple more innings and Wheeling Central would have suffered its first loss of the season and Man would be playing in the Class A state championship game.
The Lady Billies could not hold on, however, as Wheeling Central plated a run in the last half of the sixth and then scored two more in its dramatic last at-bats in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Man 3-2 in Wednesday night’s winner’s bracket contest at Vienna’s Jackson Memorial Park.
The win sends Wheeling Central (32-0) to Thursday’s Class A state championship round, needing only one more win to take the state title.
The loss bounced Man (25-6) into Thursday morning’s loser’s bracket contest against Williamstown (16-15), which survived in an elimination game.
If Man is able to beat Williamstown, the Lady Billies would get a rematch with Wheeling Central on Thursday afternoon in the championship round.
Man would have to beat the Maroon Knights twice in order to take the title.
That means three wins in a single day, a very difficult climb.
Wheeling Central won the game in the bottom of the seventh as Hannah Mozingo scored from third base on a wild pitch, breaking a 2-2 tie.
The Maroon Knights had tied it earlier in the frame as Jai’Ehir Jackson led off by getting hit by a pitch by Man hurler Emilee Walker. She was then bunted over to second by Kaitlyn Ferns and then scored on Mozingo’s RBI single to left field.
Mozingo took second on the throw to the plate which was late as Jackson scored. She then took third as the throw down to second squirted into the outfield for an error.
Wheeling Central had cut it to 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth with Riley Bennington’s RBI double to the centerfield fence.
After the game went scoreless through five innings, Man put a charge into the crowd in the top of the sixth as Emilee Toler lofted a deep fly ball to the right field fence and then scored on Sydney Keffer’s RBI double to make it 1-0. Keffer then scored on a Wheeling Central error as Man shocked the state with a 2-0 lead over the Maroon Knights.
It did not hold up, however.
Earlier in the day, Man had scored a come-from-behind 6-4 win over Moorefield.
It was Wheeling Central’s turn this time.
“We won a game earlier in the day by rallying in the seventh inning so I guess that it was their turn,” Man coach Randy Epperly said. “That’s all that I can say. It was a good ballgame. They had the last at-bats and they scored a couple of runs when they needed to. That’s the way that this game is. We’ll come back tomorrow fine. That’s a good team over there.”
When the Maroon Knights put the leadoff batter on in the bottom of the seventh down one run that seemed to set everything in motion.
“When you are going into the seventh inning and you are ahead 2-1 you cannot put the leadoff batter on against a good team,” Epperly said. “That just creates a lot of things. These are still young girls and they can’t handle the pressure situations. You have to get that leadoff batter. We’re a little bit disappointed but we are not down. We’re confident that we can still come back tomorrow.”
Epperly said Man waited too long to break the game open.
“What disappointed me tonight is that it took too long over the course of the game to adjust our batting style,” he said. “We started to shorten up and play small ball in the sixth inning. We should have been doing that in the first inning. They have a good pitcher. When you get a couple of runs on a good pitcher you expect to win. That’s state championship softball. They got the clutch hits in this game. Earlier in the day, we got the clutch hits. That’s just the way that it is.”
Epperly said he was proud of his team for taking Wheeling Central to the brink.
“We don’t shy away from anybody,” he said. “We play a tough schedule and play in tough tournaments but that’s all in preparation for this, the state tournament. The regular season is meaningless other than trying to develop younger players. Records don’t mean anything.”
Wheeling Central coach Rick Magruder said his team was fortunate enough to advance past the Lady Billies.
“You can’t overlook anybody, this proves that,” he said. “You can’t let up and I think this game put a message to them. If we don’t come ready to play tomorrow we could lose too. The good thing tomorrow is that we have another chance if we do lose one. We just have to go out, play hard and have fun and see what happens.”
Magruder said he knew Man would pose a stern challenge for his Maroon Knights.
“We’ve played them before in the state tournament and we played them last year down here,” he said. “They have beat us in the finals. They play a very difficult schedule. They don’t play a bunch of teams that are 0-18. We knew that they were going to be tough.”
VIENNA — The Man High School softball team kept its state championship hopes alive with Thursday morning’s 8-0 win in six innings over Williamstown in a Class A state tourney elimination game at Jackson Memorial Park in Vienna.
Man, 26-6 overall and 2-1 in the state tourney, advanced to play later on Thursday afternoon against Wheeling Central (32-0) in the Class A state championship round. The Maroon Knights rallied to beat the Lady Billies 3-2 on Wednesday night in the winner’s bracket.
Man needed to beat Wheeling Central twice in order to take the crown.
Williamstown saw its season come to a close at 16-16.
Haylee Daniels pitched the shutout win for Man as she tossed six innings and gave up no runs on three hits with nine strikeouts, two walks and a hit batter.
Man pounded out 13 hits on Williamstown starter Nellie King.
Catcher Sydney Keffer was 4-for-4 with a double and two RBI to lead Man. First baseman Cydnee Lambert was 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI. Emilee Toler went 2-for-5.
Maddy Paynter and Savannah McCormack added RBI singles for the Lady Billies. Chelsie Vance, the hero in Man’s 6-4 state tournament opening win over Moorefield, also had a hit as did Daniels. Emilee Walker had one RBI.
Man plated a run in the first as Toler led off with a single and later scored on an error.
In the third, Lambert’s two-run double with no outs made it 3-0.
Then in the top of the sixth, Man pushed five runs across to make it 8-0. Keffer had the big hit — a two-run double to left. Paynter and McCormack also had RBI singles in the frame.
Kayla Masters, Kayla Scott and King each had singles for Williamstown.
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).