WHEELING - The John Marshall softball team hasn't often had to concern itself with innings six and seven this season. But for the second consecutive night the Monarchs were taken to the wire, this time in an OVAC Class 5A semifinal on Lisa's Field at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Youth Sports Complex.
Senior ace Amy Rotriga fanned nine in a complete-game effort and Sissy George plated the winning run with a fourth-inning double as top-seed John Marshall (26-3) edged No. 4 Morgantown (19-8) by a 5-4 score. The Monarchs, also ranked No. 1 in West Virginia, will meet Wheeling Park, which they have beaten twice already, in Saturday's 3:45 p.m. final.
"It was a very good game,'' John Marshall coach Ed West said. "We started off hot and I thought it was going to be a little bit easier than it was.
"As it turned out, we had to fight and scrape for everything we got."
In the end though, the Monarchs picked up their 20th straight victory, marking the second straight season they have accomplished that feat. They won their first 29 in 2012 before finally falling in a sectional, but rebounded to capture a state title.
"It's hard to fathom,'' West said. "To do it day, after day, after day is tough. Usually you have a tough game here or there, and sometimes just one bad inning can do you in.
"We're not playing any slouches."
JM jumped on Mohigans starter Tara Hanson for four runs in the first inning, sending 10 batters to the plate. Kristin Lewicki beat a rundown between third and home to score the first, then Hannah Rogerson brought one home with a single. Alyssa Blake brought another in on a fielder's choice and Morgan Watson walked with the bases loaded to force in the fourth.
"If we would have settled down on our rundown there in the first inning it might have been a different outcome,'' Morgantown coach Lorri Lipscomb said. "We have executed the rundown, I don't want to say flawlessly because that's a big word, but we usually execute it a lot better than we did that time.''
After Rotriga set down the side on strikes in the first, Morgantown began to chip away. The Mohigans' first hit cleared the left-field fence off the bat of Nicole Walker in the second. An inning later an error allowed Lynsi Bean to reach with two outs and Megan DeBastiani brought her home with a ringing double into left-center to cut it to 4-2.
John Marshall though, scratched through for the winner in the fourth. Lewicki led off with an infield single and swiped second before Hanson retired two in a row. George found herself in an 0-2 hole but fouled off a couple pitches and eventually got it to a full count before ripping a double into the gap in left-center field to make it 5-2.
Morgantown rebounded for a pair in the sixth inning. An error allowed one to score and an RBI single off the bat of Kelcy Shreves cut it to 5-4. But Rotriga, who hasn't had to work this late in contests much but was involved in a nail-biter for the second night in a row, allowed a two-out single before striking out Heidi Hormell to end it.
"I told my girls a long time ago that good teams find a way to win, and we're a good team and have been finding ways to win,'' West said. "We've had a lot of games this year when we've had a pretty easy time of it.
"It's a tribute to our entire team and especially Amy for her grittiness and for hanging in there.''