WELLSBURG - Faced with elimination after Wheeling Park's Julian Figaretti crashed a two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning, John Marshall struck back for three runs during its final turn at bat to walk off with a 9-8 victory setting up a winner-take-all confrontation at noon today for the West Virginia Class AAA Region One, Section One championship on the Brooke High School diamond.
Aaron Fonner, a familiar nemesis to the Patriots this season, hurt them again by ripping a run-scoring double down the right-field line that also advanced the tying run to third with just one out.
Designated hitter Chris Minder had opened the bottom of seventh with a single up the middle but was erased at second on Todd Schmidt's force out. Zach Winland then singled, putting runners at first and second ahead of Fonner's drive that found the grass down the right-field line for his two-base knock.
Josh McKown stepped to the plate and his sacrifice fly to right tied the score at 8-8 as Fonner also tagged and advanced to third base. With two out, Evan Magers bounced a slow roller to the right side that took a hop and got away from a charging Cameron Amend at second base for a tough error as the winning run crossed the plate.
The exciting finish left the players, coaches and fans on both sides emotionally drained.
''This was a great game between high school kids that were playing hard,'' John Marshall coach Bob Montgomery said. ''We've been after these guys to keep fighting when they get down and they've done it the last two days. From a coaching standpoint, it's always good to see kids facing elimination bounce back like that.
''Now it's a one-game situation for the sectional championship and it's going to be another great contest. Park's record (10-16) is deceiving. They have good kids just like we do.''
For Mike McLeod, first-year head coach of the Patriots, it was a case of his team coming so close winning the sectional title and then having it snatched away by the defending champion Monarchs.
''This was a tough one,'' McLeod said. ''But we knew they weren't going to quit. I also thought our kids showed a lot of heart and character when we came back to take the lead.
''The neat thing about this game is that it was fun. To see the look on the kids' faces was exciting to me. It was just sad someone had to lose. We'll prepare the same we did all week and see if we can get the job done.''
Unfortunately the Patriots hurt their own cause with five errors while the Monarchs, the team that has dominated this sectional during the years, did not have a miscue and managed to come out on top despite collecting just seven hits off the combined pitching of Skyler Fitzpatrick and Andrew Kowalo.
JM, now 21-15 after a 1-6 start, scored three runs in the bottom of the second while collecting only one single provided by Fonner. Winland reached on an error, took second after a wild pitch and advanced to third when Fonner singled. Another wild pitch scored Winland and, following a walk to Josh McKown, both runners scored on another Park miscue.
However, the Patriots rebounded to tie the score at 3-3 in the top of the third. Figaretti's base hit with one out was followed by back-to-back RBI triples from Dylan Janeczko and Amend. Ethan Jacobs' sacrifice fly plated the tying run.
Park jumped ahead 4-3 in the top of the fourth as J.R. Pyle doubled into the right-center gap and scored when Zach Drake's fly ball down the right-field line just fell into fair territory for a triple. Fonner then replaced Lucas on the mound and ended the rally with a strikeout and bounce out.
It was John Marshall's turn to respond in the bottom of the inning as it scored three more times, though only getting two hits. Fonner started it with another single, McKown was hit by an pitch before an error scored the first run. Ryan Gellner then walked and Lucas ripped a two-run single for a 6-4 Monarchs lead.
''Jake had a big hit there after coming off the mound and he made a couple of nice plays at shortstop,'' Montgomery pointed out.
Park got closer in the sixth on a walk, singles by Drake and Figaretti and another free pass to Janeczko that forced in a run.
Doubles by Fitzpatrick and Jackson in the seventh inning tied the score at 6-6 just ahead of Figaretti's two-run bomb over the fence in left field that put the Patriots within three outs of a victory and a sectional title.