STEUBENVILLE - Another day, another one-run extra inning victory - and so it goes for the Wheeling Park baseball team.
Down four early, the Patriots found their "A game" just in time to earn a 7-6 win over Big Red in eight innings at Vacarro Field Thursday. On Wednesday, Mike McLeod's club, now 16-1, rallied from an early deficit to defeat upset-minded Brooke by the same score.
"We started with our B game but we kept battling, scrapping, clawing and chipping away," McLeod said. "We found our A game at the right time.
"Any time you can beat Big Red, you know you've done a heck of a job. It was a great game, unfortunately someone had to win and someone had to lose."
Michael Grove came up big for the Patriots, knocking in what proved to be the game-winning run then working his way out of a jam in the eighth to notch the pitching victory.
With one out in the Park half of the extra frame, Ethan Jacobs was hit by a pitch. Andrew Kowalo was robbed of a base hit when Big Red's Cody Saltsman made a diving catch in center. Grove then connected for a two-out, two-strike double into the right-center gap to plate Jacobs.
Big Red, to its credit, was not about to go down without a fight. Evan Westlake led off with a double to deep right and moved to third when Saltsman reached on an error. Grove escaped trouble when the next Big Red hitter sent a grounder to short, resulting in a 6-4-3 game-ending double play.
Earlier in the game, Grove made a key defensive play to stop a Big Red threat in the fifth. The bases were juiced with one out when Grove, then playing second base, snagged a line drive off the bat of Justin Corsi and flipped to shortshop Kowalo for the twin killing.
"He's just a sophomore but he's doing an outstanding job for us," McLeod said of Grove. "He came up here last year as a freshman and pitched well against Big Red. That double-play was huge. They could have busted the game open there."
Fred Heatherington's Big Red, now 8-4, appeared ready to blow things open early. The hosts scored two in the first (Westlake's double scoring Bryan Pierro and John Linn) and one more in the second (Matt Petrella getting a run-producing single). The scored moved to 5-1 thanks to third inning hits by Corsi (he drove a two-bagger to left-center), Lucas Herrington and Pierro. Mason Heatherington recorded a RBI via a fly to center.
Big Red's final tally came in the fourth, Kai McClurg's triple plating Westlake. The hosts did load the bases in the seventh (Heatherington getting a leadoff single) but were unable to score. For the game, Big Red stranded 14 runners.
"Obviously, we left too many runners on base," Heatherington noted. "We battled to the end and still had a chance to win the game. But, we just couldn't get a key hit when we needed it."
Park's offense was held in check early by freshman southpaw Anthony Zorne. He worked four and a third innings, scattering seven hits, allowing three runs and fanning six. Zorne, like Westlake who took over in the fifth, did not issue a walk.
Big Red's defense, unfortunately, did not provide much support for its pitchers, committing seven errors.
"We gave them too many opportunities," Heatherington added. "We got them down then let them back in the game. You can't win a high school baseball game with seven errors."
Park got single tallies in the second (Matt Hackathorn driving home Grove) and third (Eric Banks' double scoring Chalmer Moffett who singled). The Patriots added two more in the fifth (Kowalo's two-bagger, Trevor Stewart's single were the key blows) and sixth (two Big Red miscues and Grove's single leading to the runs).
Four of Park's seven runs came with two outs.
"We definitely got some timely hitting," McLeod pointed out. "We set up our lineup a little differently tonight because we have been leaving guys on. We batted Grove down a little and things worked out."
Matt Brooks started on the hill for the Patriots, giving way to Eric Crow in the fourth. Stewart took over in the fifth before giving way to Grove in the seventh.
Grove paced the eight-hit Park attack with a double and a single.
"We had a rocky start against a very good team," McLeod stated. "We hung tough and were able to persevere and win by one. We'll take it.
"Our biggest theme this year is adversity and how you handle it. Right now, the kids are handling it well and are starting to believe."
Pierro, Linn and Westlake all had multiple hits for Big Red, which hosts Claymont (11 a.m.) and Maysville (4 p.m.) Saturday.
Park has a twin bill at home Saturday opposite Parkersburg South.
Wheeling Park 7, Big Red 6
Wheeling Park 010 122 01 - 7 8 3
Big Red 212 100 00 - 6 11 7
WHEELING PARK (16-1): Brooks (3BB, 3K) Crow (4, 4BB 0K) Stewart (5, 3BB 0K), Grove (WP, 7, 2BB 1K) and Hackathorn. Banks D; Jackson S; Kowalo D; Grove D, S, RBI; Stewart 2S, RBI; Moffett S, RBI; Hackathorn S, RBI.
BIG RED (8-3): Zorne (0BB, 6K) Westlake (LP, 5, 0BB, 1K, 2 HB) and McClurg. Pierro 2S; Linn 2S; Petrella S, RBI; Corsi D; Westlake 2D, RBI; McClurg T, RBI; Herrington S; Heatherington S, RBI.