MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Wheeling Park held a deep and talented Morgantown lineup in check for most of Friday’s Class AAA showdown at Mylan Park.
With one swing of the bat, however, Mohigans’ third baseman Devon Neal changed that.
Neal’s three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning allowed No. 5 Morgantown to create separation, and the Mohigans went on to an 8-1 victory over the No. 8 Patriots.
“I actually told him in the dugout before that, ‘you need to pull the next one out,’” Morgantown coach Mark McCarty said. “He’s been letting it get too deep in the box and hitting everything to left field for two days. Obviously he got in front of that one.”
Neal’s round-tripper came off Billy Gooch in the first batter the Wheeling Park (7-4) reliever faced. It increased the Mohigans’ lead to 5-1, scoring Quintin Smith, who led off the inning with a single, and courtesy runner Zach Brennan. Brennan was running for pitcher Carter Patrick, who doubled after Smith’s single.
That double spelled the end of the day for Patriots’ starting pitcher Triston Curry and put added pressure on the Patriots, who never threatened to rally.
“It was a pretty tight game until the fifth,” Wheeling Park coach Steve Myers said. “We had some opportunities we didn’t take advantage of, and when they had their chances they capitalized.”
Morgantown (10-2) added to its lead with three runs in the sixth. Smith’s bunt single brought home Ethan Smith, who had led off with a double. A Wheeling Park throwing error then allowed Smith and Charlie Petty to score what proved to be the game’s final runs.
MHS took a 1-0 lead in the second on Zach Owens’ sacrifice fly, which scored Colton Matthews.
Patrick retired the side in order in the top of the third and the Mohigans added to their lead in the bottom of the frame. Smith led off with a single and moved up to second on an error, before scoring on Caleb Taylor’s sacrifice fly to center.
“We didn’t swing the bats quite as well as we have recently, but they also played good defense,” McCarty said. “That’s a good team and it feels good anytime you can beat them.”
Trailing 2-0 in the top of the fourth, Wheeling Park’s offense came to life when a base-on-balls combined with an error allowed the Patriots’ first two batters of the inning to reach. Ben Taylor followed with a single to right-center that allowed Gooch to score, cutting the Patriots’ deficit in half.
But with runners on second and third and no outs, Patrick struck out Bryce Bauer and Dylan Gongola in consecutve at-bats, before getting Brock Archer to groundout to third.
That allowed Morgantown to keep its lead, and although the Mohigans didn’t add to it until the next inning, the Patriots had squandered their best chance to tie or take the lead.
“It changed a little bit of the momentum of the game,” Myers said. “Things could have gone differently.”
Patrick did not allow a hit over the last three innings and retired the final seven batters he faced.
“He got in front of our guys. He had a good curve ball working and an off-speed catch he was able to keep on the corners that kept us off-balance a little bit,” Myers said. “He made us hit some fly balls and typically we try to not do that.”
The southpaw earned the win by allowing one run on two hits over the complete game. He struck out six and walked a pair.
“He just told me that he didn’t have command of all of his pitches today like usual. But he was pounding the strike zone and keeping them off balance,” McCarty said. “He did a good job and we played pretty good defense.”
Curry was tagged with the loss after scattering four runs on three hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Smith finished 3-for-4 and scored three times. He was the only MHS player to record more than one hit.