GLEN DALE - Late-inning lightning and clutch pitching after a shaky start from senior ace Tori Tharp proved to be the difference as Magnolia rallied to surprise 2011 West Virginia Class AAA state softball runner-up John Marshall 10-6 during Wednesday's mutual opener on the Monarchs' field.
Trailing 6-4 with two out and the bases empty in the top of the sixth, Coach Mark Batton's Blue Eagles pounded out four straight singles and took advantage of a costly John Marshall error to jump in front 7-6.
Magnolia then put the game away in the seventh after a two-out miscue opened the flood gates for three more runs to cross the plate.
Tharp allowed just four hits, only one after the third inning. Despite falling behind 6-3, she buckled down late in the game and retired 10 of the last 11 John Marshall batters to prevail in what both teams had expected to be a low-run pitching duel between two of the Ohio Valley's premier pitchers.
Things just didn't turn out that way. Tharp was touched for three runs in the opening inning after yielding two hits, one walk and a Blue Eagles error. Meanwhile, JM's Amy Rotriga had trouble finding the plate.
''Tori finished the game really strong," Batton said. ''What a great job she did of locating the ball. John Marshall came out on fire and Kristin (Lewicki) almost hit a home run off her on the first pitch of the game. Our girls didn't quit and they hung right in there until we finally were able to get the bat on the ball late and generate some runs."
Rotriga did not allow a hit in her two and two-thirds innings of work. However, eight walks, including the free passes to Makenzie Dawson and Cassadi Wells that forced in runs, resulted in an early exit for the Monarchs lefty after she had thrown 78 pitches.
''Amy could not seem to find her control, which is very uncharacteristic of the way she pitches," noted John Marshall coach Ed West. ''We had two scrimmages last week and she looked as as sharp as she ever has throwing the ball."
Batton also was surprised at Rotriga's early control problems.
''We've seen enough of Amy over the past couple of years to know she is a great pitcher," Batton said. "She'll bounce back from this and be fine. Also, John Marshall has one of the top programs in the valley every year and we are well pleased to come out of here with a win."
Early on, it looked as if the Monarchs would be doing most of the celebrating. Lewicki drove Tharp's first pitch deep down the left-field line and the ball just hooked into foul territory, denying her a home run. Still, she ended up working Tharp for a nine-pitch walk.
Lewicki promptly stole second, took third on Alyssa George's infield out and scored when Kylie Howard ripped an RBI single to left. A dropped throw at second base allowed Howard to reach second while Megan Garcia was safe at first on the fielder's choice. Both runners moved up on Morgan Watson's grounder to the right side. Hannah Rogerson's double off the base of the left-field fence scored both Howard and Garcia for a 3-0 Monarch lead.
After recording three strikeouts and throwing just 13 pitches in the first inning, Rotriga struck out the side again in the second but walks to Tharp, Emily Blake, Wells and Dawson got the Blue Eagles on the scoreboard for the first time. Four more walks in the third inning, the last one to Wells with the sacks jammed, cut JM's lead to 3-2 and brought on Garcia to replace Rotriga in the circle.
Howard roped a home run over the fence in left field in the bottom of the third, followed by a walk to Garcia and a three-base throwing error that extended the John Marshall lead to 5-2.
Magnolia pulled within 5-4 in the top of the fourth on a walk to Maghan Miller, Marissa Bosley's double, a single by Dallas Mullett and Tharp's sacrifice fly to center. Howard got Garcia out of further trouble with a nice play from the hole at shortstop to retire Blake and end the inning.
Two Blue Eagles errors allowed John Marshall to score a run without a hit in the bottom of the fourth that put the hosts in front 6-4.
Garcia pitched around Babe's leadoff double in the fifth with three straight strikeouts to end that threat. However, after a pop out and a whiff of Mullett to open the sixth frame, the roof fell in on the Monarchs.
Mallory Chapman singled up the middle and Tharp banged out a hit to left field. Blake then stepped up and ripped an RBI bingle and when the ball eluded the Monarchs' leftfielder, Tharp scored the tying run. Babe's second hit, this one an RBI single, gave the Blue Eagles the lead to stay.
Garcia again retired the first two Magnolia hitters in the seventh but an error on a routine ground ball to center was followed by Bosley's double into left center, Mullett's two-run single up the middle and Chapman's RBI hit that also got into centerfield.
''We did not have that many errors but the ones we did have really hurt," West continued. ''We have to field the ball and there's no defense for the walks we gave up."