WHEELING, W.Va. — When Wheeling Park defeated Morgantown in Game 1 of the Class AAA Region I series, it did so in large part because of a strong start that saw the Patriots score two runs in each of the first two innings.
The Mohigans got even Wednesday at home, forcing Thursday’s winner-take-all third game at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Softball Complex.
This time around, a fast start was again the key for the Patriots. Wheeling Park pushed three runs across in the first inning, then relied on two strong pitching performances and solid defensive play to hold off Morgantown, 4-2.
“Our defense played really well. Last night, in the bottom of the sixth, we gave up six runs and a lot of them were on errors,” Wheeling Park coach Pat Durkin said. “I was worried this morning how their attitudes would be coming off of that, but they came back and were ready to go.”
The Patriots (13-11) will play in next week’s state tournament in Vienna.
“We’ve lost a lot of games, but we haven’t given up and that’s why we’re back,” Durkin said.
Wheeling Park scored its first run on a single from starting pitcher Ashley Linder, which drove in Izzy Miller.
After Haines struck out Mahayla McCroskey for the second out of the inning, Lauren Fox delivered a key two-run bloop single that enabled Kieran Johnson and Linder to score, giving the Patriots the early 3-0 lead.
Morgantown (18-8) got on the board in the third after recording three hits, including a double by Breonna Marietta and a single from Brianna McKenzie that plated Jocelyn McCartney. But the Mohigans stranded a pair of runners and couldn’t muster another serious threat until the fifth.
Still trailing 3-1, Morgantown put runners aboard on singles from McCartney and McKenzie. With two outs, a mental error on a fielder’s choice allowed the Mohigans to load the bases.
But Linder buckled down and struck out Lili Kooser to escape the threat.
“We had opportunities,” Morgantown coach Lorri Lipscomb said. “When you get the bases loaded, it’s about timely hitting. They had it tonight and we didn’t. We had good hits, but we couldn’t string them together to get people across the plate. That’s the difference in the game.”
Park added to its lead in the bottom half of the fifth when Shea Wright sent an offering from Haines over the left field fence for a solo home run.
“That home run picked the bench up too. We were kind of flat,” Durkin said. “They had scored the last run and when Shea hit that, the bench was excited and we were ready to go.”
But the Mohigans didn’t go away quietly. Instead, Haines drew a leadoff walk in the sixth and courtesy runner Maris Anthony scored from sewcond on an Emma Phares double to center.
At that point, Durkin elected to remove Linder from the mound in favor of Kacy Long, and it couldn’t have worked out any better for the Patriots.
Long struck out Ava Anderson and McCartney to end the sixth and keep the 4-2 lead intact.
Morgantown had one final chance in the seventh, but Long struck out the first two batters and Brooke Pyles popped up for the final out.
Linder earned the win, allowing eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. She struck out two and walked one, before Long picked up the save with four strikeouts in 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
Haines took the loss after allowing four runs on six hits in six innings.
The Mohigans left nine runners on base, compared to three for the Patriots.
“We played our hearts out,” McKenzie said. “There has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. It just didn’t go our way unfortunately.”