It wasn’t the classic kind of game their programs have been known to play at the state baseball tournament, but Charleston Catholic will take it just the same.
Will Strickland drove in five runs in the final three innings and the Irish righted the ship in time to make off with a 10-4 victory against Wheeling Central in the Class A semifinals at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.
The win sends Catholic (27-10), the No. 2 seed, into Sunday’s 10 a.m. finals against top seed and defending state champion Moorefield. But it certainly didn’t come easily for the Irish.
Both teams struggled mightily with the finer points of the game through the early innings — walks, errors, wild pitches, etc. — and were tied at 4 going into the bottom of the fourth of a contest played at a snail’s pace.
That’s when Strickland, a junior catcher, slapped a two-run double to put the Irish up 6-4. In the sixth, he added a bases-clearing three-run triple to bump the advantage up to 9-4. He scored moments later on a safety squeeze bunt by Evan Sayre.
“I was just trying to get on base,’’ Strickland said, “and get us the lead at one point, then extend the lead. Just trying to do what’s best for our team.’’
Marshall Pile, Catholic’s starter, went 42/3 innings to get the win, allowing four runs (just one earned), striking out seven, walking two and hitting four. Central scored three of its four runs on infield errors by the Irish, who had three errors in all.
“Hats off to Marshall for keeping his composure,’’ said Irish coach Bill Mehle. “There were a couple of routine plays that cost us dearly and probably cost him about 15 pitches. But he was able to battle back.’’
Two years ago, Charleston Catholic and Wheeling Central met in the semifinals and the Irish managed a 2-0 win in a well-played game on both sides. Friday’s game, however, didn’t measure up to that.
Central (22-10) ended up issuing nine walks and had two errors, three wild pitches, two balks, a passed ball, a hit batter and allowed two stolen bases. Catholic wasn’t much better, with two walks, three errors, two wild pitches, four hit batters and two stolen bases.
“You saw the gambit of mistakes from two teams that were trying too hard to get it done,’’ said Central coach Bo McConnaughy. “We didn’t settle down, and they did.
“The first four innings, we left eight guys in scoring position. But that’s baseball. You get young kids out there, and it’s gonna happen.’’
Central leadoff hitter Avery Lee (2 for 3, triple) scored twice in the first four innings to help achieve that 4-4 tie heading into the bottom of the fourth. That’s when Strickland came to the fore the first time with a two-out, two-run double to give his team the lead for good.
“I can’t say enough about Will Strickland,’’ Mehle said. “We talked over the winter that if he wanted to hit in the heart of the order and catch a lot of games and get into the postseason, you’d better be in good shape because the legs and core are the first to go and you’ll not be able to hit as effectively as we get deep into the season.
“He took the advice and really worked on his legs and core over the winter, got strong and has been able to compete 37 games behind the dish and get some huge hits.’’
After Catholic got that lead, about the only sour note was the pitch count for Pile (11-2), the team’s ace. Due to all his team’s extraneous shortcomings, he had to leave the mound with two out in the fifth after getting to the 110-pitch limit.
The Irish were forced to go with No. 2 pitcher Thomas Blaydes in the fifth, and Blaydes delivered, retiring six in a row with three K’s before allowing a two-out double to Jordan Waterhouse in the seventh. He left after throwing 29 pitches, which keeps him eligible to pitch in the finals on Sunday.
“It was not in the game plan to bring Thomas on the mound,’’ Mehle said, “but we knew early in the fifth inning we were going to have to go through their batting order a couple more times.
“He’s scheduled to be the Game 2 starter and he has full availability [Sunday]. He’s a hard-nosed competitor so we fully expect him to be able to go.’’
Connor Blakley, a first-year Irish player, got the call to close out the game, which he did with another strikeout, his team’s 11th of the game.
Pile was also helped along by two stellar defensive plays — a head-first diving catch by left fielder Marc Spiegel to close out the fourth with two runners aboard and an over-the-shoulder running snag by center fielder Parker Ross to begin the fifth.
The Maroon Knights also had to burn their top two pitchers — Adam Murray and Sonny Peluchette — as they struggled to hold onto an early 2-0 lead and a middle-inning 4-4 tie. Murray (4-0) went 12/3 innings before giving way to Peluchette, who worked 31/3 innings and permitted eight runs (seven earned) on three hits.
Strickland was the only player in the game with more than one hit. Sayre drove in a pair with two different bunts.