Wheeling Central starts strong, never looks back in 11-0 win against Cameron

WHEELING, W.Va. — With Wheeling Central welcoming Cameron on Wednesday for just its second game since May 7, there was understandable concern from Maroon Knights’ coach Todd Cover.

Although the Maroon Knights needed one win before two losses to wrap up a Class A Region I, Section 1 championship, the potential for rust along with facing a Division I-bound pitcher in the Dragons’ Coy Angel only heightened Cover’s cause for concern.

By the end of the first inning, the Maroon Knights had erased all doubt.

Wheeling Central set the tone by scoring five runs on five hits in the opening frame off Coy Angel, and that was more than enough offense to back a strong pitching performance from Brayden Cover in an 11-0 five-inning victory at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Sports Complex.

“It’s been a long two weeks here. The Madonna game got pushed back, so we just had to keep practicing,” Central coach Todd Cover said. “My arm is worn out from throwing BP that many days, but it’s worked out for us. Pitching and defense has been there for us all year that’s kind of what we rely on. 

“They have a really good pitcher going Division I and we kind of thought it was going to be a low-scoring game. I didn’t know how we’d handle it, because we haven’t seen that kind of velocity yet, but we came out and swung the bats pretty well. Scoring five relaxed us a little bit. That’s a big key for us is getting ahead and then having our pitching and defense take over.”

The result polishes off a sectional championship for Wheeling Central (23-3) and allows the Maroon Knights to advance to next week’s best-of-three Region I series against Williamstown that will feature two of the top Class A programs battling for a spot in the state tournament.

Central sent 11 batters to the plate in the opening frame after the first three reached. Eli Tucker and Gary Hatfield accounted for consecutive singles following Braxton Billick’s leadoff walk, with Hatfield’s single plating Billick for the first run.

After the first out, Zayne Rosnick capitalized on a drawn in infield and ripped a two-run single to right to up his team’s advantage to 3-0.

The Maroon Knights scored twice more that inning — first on a Kade Koroneos single that was a high chopper up the third base line and enabled Rosnick to come home, and again when courtesy runner Andy Bailer crossed the plate courtesy of a wild pitch.

Coming off a knee injury that’s prevented him from pitching for a month, Angel struggled early.

“He’s pitched a couple innings here and there, but we didn’t know how well he was going to do,” Cameron coach Adam Angel said. “We threw Lance [Hartley] a little bit yesterday to try to give him as much time off as we could if we got to tomorrow. Coy just wasn’t sharp and they gave us plays to make on some soft-hit balls, but we just didn’t make them. Tough plays to make and we just didn’t execute.”

After the Dragons positioned a pair of baserunners at the corners in the second, Cover induced a ground ball to second off the bat of Wes Starcher to escape unharmed.

Central’s plate patience paid off in the home half of the second as Kay Lipinski and Cover worked walks immediately after Rosnick was hit by a pitch. Rosnick scored the lone run of that frame on a wild pitch with two outs, and Cover worked around a third-inning walk with a pair of strikeouts to keep his shutout intact.

The Dragons (22-11) hurt their cause in the bottom of the third as Tucker reached on a dropped third strike that led to a throwing error and Billick scoring from second base. Moments later, Hatfield reached on a throwing error that brought Tucker around from second base to make it 8-0.

“They made contact and put pressure on our defense,” coach Angel said. “Putting pressure on any defense, there’s going to be mistakes and you’re going to be able to score. I told our guys, I don’t care if it was 55-0, we didn’t score a run. Even with those plays, you have to be able to score. It’s tough.”

At that point, Preston Harley replaced Angel as pitcher, but the Maroon Knights had the matchup well in hand.

Still, Central wasn’t done scoring and produced three runs in the fourth on one swing — Tucker’s bases clearing double to left.

Trailing by 11 in the fifth, Cameron threatened to prolong the contest when Starcher worked a leadoff walk and Hartley followed with a double to right, putting two in scoring position for the Dragons.

But Kason Angel’s ground ball to third resulted in the first out of the inning at the plate, and the contest came to an end not long after when Cover struck out Colson Wichterman and Lipinski, a catcher, immediately threw down to third where Seth Cover tagged Hartley before he could get back to the bag for the final out.

It marked the second time in as many innings a Dragons’ baserunner had been picked off.

Over five shutout frames, Cover allowed two hits, walked five and struck out six.

“With the delay, it’ll be two weeks tomorrow since he last pitched. You do bullpens, but it’s not the same as a game,” coach Cover said. “He probably wasn’t as sharp with his control, but he battled back and we made a great play at the end to keep the shutout. He’s a sophomore and we expect big things from him.“

Tucker drove in three runs and had two hits. Lipinski matched Tucker’s hit total as the duo combined for half of Central’s eight hits.

Coy Angel, who will prolong his baseball career at Wright State, was charged with eight runs on six hits over 2 2/3 innings in defeat. He struck out five and walked a pair. 

“I’ve been throwing pretty hard in the cage to them trying to get them ready for the velocity,” coach Cover said. “We have a lot of talent, but the best thing about us is our kids are great kids.“

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