GLEN DALE - With its back against the wall and facing season-ending elimination, Bishop Donahue's baseball team played with fire all game long before finally getting burned by Weirton Madonna Friday afternoon.
Nick Ossman belted a pair of long home runs and Chris Duerr chased home the game-winning runs with a two-run double in the top of the seventh as the Blue Dons rallied for a cherished 7-5 victory over the Bishops in the West Virginia Class A, Region 1, Section 1 championship game at John Marshall High School.
The victory sends Coach Jeff Baire's Madonna squad into regional play on May 22 at 5:30 p.m. against Cameron in Weirton.
Starting, and losing pitcher, Wylie Koontz broke a 4-4 deadlock in the bottom of the sixth, but the assist had to go to Phillip Smith. Garrett Yurisko had singled leading off the frame, went to second on a fielder's choice and third when Smith reached on an error.
With one down Koontz hit a grounder to short for what looked like an inning-ending double-play, but Smith took out the second baseman allowing Yurisko to score, making it 5-4.
However, a Donahue gift in the top of the seventh managed to turn the tables and lead to victory for the Dons. After Nick Battista reached on a fielder's choice, Ross Comis singled to put runners at first and third with one down. But a roller to second, and possible double-play ball, was booted, loading the bases.
Battista scored to tie the game on a wild pitch before Duerr's two-run double into the left-center field gap provided the eventual game-winners.
"They made some good plays in the field and we missed a couple of signs early, but we finally put some pressure on them in the seventh," a relieved Baire mentioned. "We really have been doing a good job in the later innings the last couple of weeks."
Donahue Head Coach Bob Kleeh, knew his team was living on the edge, but was also hoping for the best.
"We dodged some bullets all game long," Kleeh admitted. "And we had plenty of opportunities of our own, but we made a couple of mistakes and they were able to cash in on them in the seventh and they just got it done."
After Madonna took a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first on Comis' run-scoring single, Donahue used three fielder's choices, an error and RBI singles from Phillip Smith and Alex Riedel to take a 3-1 lead.
But Ossman tied the score at 3-3 when he followed a lead-off walk to Duerr with a shot deep over the left field fence for a 3-3 count.
While Donahue received two-out singles from Yurisko and Kyle Gillis in both the second and fourth frames and Madonna stranded a runner in scoring position in each of the third and fourth frames, the score remained deadlocked until the fifth.
After the Blue Dons collected three singles, but failed to score in the top of the fifth, Koontz took matters into his own hands in the bottom of the frame, breaking the tie with a lead-off bomb over the left field fence and a 4-3 Bishop Donahue upper hand.
It looked like the Bishops might do more damage in the frame with a little help from the Dons. Donahue loaded the bases on a wild pitch on a third strike, an error and a walk. But Tory Fuscardo relieved starter Connor Mogan with one out and induced a double-play grounder on his first pitch to end the threat.
"Tory Fuscardo set up everything that ended up happening in the end with just one pitch in the fifth inning," Baire smiled. "He gets the double-play on a ball that if we don't make the play we are probably down at least two runs late. Mentally that is a whole different hurdle than the one we overcame."
For the second time in the contest Ossman came to his team's rescue and knotted the count with a home run. This time a one-out, solo shot to left-center in the top of the sixth to make it 4-4.
"The two home runs that Nick Ossman hit were just absolutely huge," Baire continued. "He is a gamer, but he has been struggling a little lately. We worked on a couple things in practice on Thursday and they really paid off in this game. I have always said that if Nick can just finish his swings, he is going to do some damage.
"Overall, we did a better job fielding the ball (Friday) and it made a world of difference. But you have to give Bishop Donahue a whole lot of credit. They have hit us all season long and they had a great season. That team is so improved and I am very impressed with the job that Bob (Kleeh) has done with those kids."
While Kleeh wished to congratulate the Blue Dons and wish them well in the regional, he was also very complimentary of his own team.
"Wylie Koontz did a heck of a job on the mound for us," Kleeh said. "There really is nothing more I could have asked from him. He did not pitch more than an inning in a game all year long and we just went with him. It just didn't work out, but we had our chances.
"These kids have so much heart and they battled all day. For them to play like they did in a do-or-die situation, it just really shows how much character they all have."
Logan Linder pitched the final two innings to get the win on the mound, even though he allowed a run in the sixth that tied the game. Koontz, meanwhile, took the hard-luck loss, fanning four and walking just a pair.
Madonna actually put the lead-off man on base in every inning except the sixth, however, that batter was only able to score in the first and second frames.
Weirton Madonna 7, Bishop Donahue 5
Weirton Madonna 120 001 3 - 7 11 4
Bishop Donahue 300 011 0 - 5 11 3
WEIRTON MADONNA: Mogan (6K, 1BB), T.Fuscardo (5, 0K, 0BB), Linder (WP, 6, 2K, 0BB) and Duerr; Battista 3S; Comis 2S, rbi; Ossman 2HR, 3rbi; Duerr S, D, 2rbi.
BISHOP DONAHUE: Koontz (LP, 4K, 2BB) and Riedel; Smith S, rbi; Riedel 3S, rbi; Yurisko 3S; Gillis 2S; Koontz HR, 2rbi.