GLEN DALE - The ball flew off the bat of Wheeling Park's Emily Puskarich and into right-center field, where even if John Marshall's Jackie Gellner was able to make the catch, her momentum would certainly carry her away from the plate. Regardless, Wheeling Park coach Dee Davis had already elected to hold Kelsi Johnson at third base on that seventh-inning play, and agonizingly enough, the throw was well up the first-base line.
One play later, Monarchs pitcher Amy Rotriga induced a chopper back to the circle from Marissa Tucker, and John Marshall (30-3) survived to capture the West Virginia Class AAA Region One, Section One championship.
''Yeah, I could have sent the girl there. But the last game we played (Gellner) threw two of our girls out at the plate,'' Davis said. ''I put the bat in Marissa's hands and I have a lot of confidence in her to make contact.''
John Marshall’s Kylie Howard, left, looks to throw to first after forcing out Wheeling Park’s Kayla Kimmins during Wednesday’s West Virginia Class AAA Region One, Section One Final.
Photo by Shawn Rine
That seventh-inning sequence was hardly the only anxious moment for the Monarchs.
Much like the sun that was setting over Marshall County, a season that seemed destined for greatness was threatening to go dark for John Marshall. Clinging to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning against a Wheeling Park (18-7) club that had just ended the Monarchs' 29-game winning streak with a 4-3 victory less than an hour earlier, Coach Ed West's team was staring a second straight defeat in the face.
The Patriots had the bases loaded with one out and were looking to silence a jam-packed crowd that had gathered to see the two rivals do battle for the third time in three days. But junior lefty Rotriga got Kayla Kimmins to ground to shortstop Kylie Howard who threw home for the force, and then struck out Ashleigh Sidon looking to end the threat.
''I called timeout and told the girls 'make a play here and there's two down and we're still in it,' '' West said. ''Amy's throwing the ball well. She'll get the ball over the plate and and we'll make a play.' ''
Sure enough, that's how it played out. It allowed a Morgan Watson sacrifice fly in the fourth that scored Howard, who had doubled, to stand as the winner. The Monarchs were looking for more, but the Patriots' Puskarich, Tucker and Carly Greer combined on a 4-6-3 double play to end what to that point was the game's most sizeable uprising.
John Marshall will play University, which beat Morgantown, in a regional semifinal a week from today at 5 p.m., also on its home field.
''You never know how the girls are going to respond, but I felt confident they would come back and play well,'' West said of the Game 1 loss. ''I was really proud of the way we played. It was a tight game, but they hung in there well and did enough to win.''
Rotriga scattered five hits and struck out five to earn a victory. Freshman Skylar Carrington was the hard-luck loser, despite also only allowing five hits.
It was a stark contrast to the opener where John Marshall fell behind 2-0 in the third on a two-run double to right-center by Allie Dailer that scored Keleigh Sidon and Tucker. Carrington made it 3-0 an inning later when she grounded out to score Ashleigh Sidon, who reached on a fielder's choice.
The Monarchs got one of those back in the bottom of the inning as Alexa Jones doubled in losing pitcher Megan Garcia. But that's all John Marshall could muster against Greer (two strikeouts, one walk) until the bottom of the seventh.
There, Rotriga singled with one out and Gellner followed with a double. After Kristin Lewicki was retired on a flyout to center, Sissy George came through with a two-out, two-run single to tie it. Howard followed with a single, but Garcia was retired when Park shortstop Puskarich made a nice running play on a sinking line drive.
The Patriots wasted little time in the eighth as Kimmins and Ashleigh Sidon had back-to-back one-out singles, and Johnson reached on a fielder's choice. Carrington then delivered the game-winning single down the right-field line.
''We played a lot of games and a lot of innings in this three-day tournament,'' Davis said. ''I'm proud of my team.
''We could have won it, but we didn't. We'll move on and learn from our mistakes.''
The Monarchs are simply moving on.
''I'm sure it was on their mind,'' West said. ''If the streak ends, this is probably the best place for it to end, in a double-elimination sectional.
''Any other result wouldn't be good.''