GLEN DALE - It is not often that a high school softball game between two good teams is actually decided in the first inning, however, different fates for Wheeling Park and John Marshall in the opening frame Tuesday afternoon all but decided the outcome.
Coach Dee Davis' Patriots loaded the bases with only one out in the top of the first but scored just one time. Meanwhile, Ed West's Monarchs filled the sacks with two down in the bottom of the frame and plated four tallies.
Amy Rotriga's two-out, three-run double in the first inning proved to be the difference and Megan Garcia took care of the Park hitters early in each inning to gain the victory as John Marshall recorded a 6-3 win over the Patriots at John Marshall High School.
"It's a big win," West said. "Everything is kind of on the line when we play - the sectional, the OVAC - and plus it is a victory over your arch-rival."
Ironically, one of the big catalysts was the Monarchs' Sissy George, who doubled twice, plated a run and scored two times. A season ago George helped lead Wheeling Park (6-2) to three regular season wins against the Monarchs, but is now a key component for West.
The Patriots got it going early, but also failed to do as much damage as they might have liked. A pair of one-out walks and an infield single loaded the bases, however, only one run scored on Allie Dailer's sacrifice fly to right for a 1-0 lead.
John Marshall (7-2) found itself in a similar situation in the home-half of the frame - the only difference was that the Monarchs capitalized. George's one-out double was followed by three consecutive walks, the third forcing in a run.
Rotriga then untied the count with a huge three-run double into the right-center field gap and the hosts were off and rolling with a 4-1 upper hand.
"I am so glad for Amy getting that hit," West said. "That was real big and kind of set the tone. I think it really inspired the girls and got them even more fired up."
Park got one back in the second after a one-out Skylar Carrington single, a fielder's choice and a John Marshall error that closed the gap to 4-2.
The hosts got it back once again in the bottom of the inning, pushing across two more on George's run-scoring double down the left field line and a Patriots' error for a 6-2 lead.
Wheeling Park scored again in the third, but it could have been worse if not for an amazing play by JM shortstop Kylie Howard to produce the second out. That play was followed by back-to-back singles by Dailer and Kayla Kimmons and a Monarchs miscue to make it a 6-3 score.
John Marshall had chances in the fourth, putting two on with no one out, however, some fine Park defense kept the Monarchs from doing any further damage.
West's group had the same situation in the sixth, putting the first two batters on, but failing to score a run with Carrington entering the game to stop the threat.
Oddly enough, all nine of the game's runs were scored in the opening three innings. Also, John Marshall was guilty of six errors, four more than the Patriots and had one less hit than their guests (5-4).
A big advantage for the hosts was the fact that Garcia was able to set down the first Park hitter in every frame except the fourth. And the one batter that did reach to lead off an inning was thrown out trying to steal.
"The first out is a very big out and you have to give a lot of credit to Megan Garcia," West added. "She did an outstanding job locating pitches and keeping their hitters off balance the entire game.
"It wasn't a perfect game, we were sloppy in the field at times and gave them a couple of runs, but we hit the ball very well and we will continue to work on the defense."
Davis, meanwhile, felt like her girls were just not as fired up as they needed to be and helped the Monarchs out too much.
"Last year we beat them three times in the regular season and lost to them in the sectional, and I think for that reason the girls really just weren't fired up enough," Davis commented. "And I think we did a lot of things to beat ourselves, but they are all correctable and we will be ready next time.
"We had some crazy base running and we still need to get some kinks out, but John Marshall hit the ball hard. We also got some hits, but just not at the right times, with people on base.
"Sissy (George) really helped them out a lot, and I know how that feels. But I have shuffled the lineup a little bit and I will continue to do that until we get things straight."