WHEELING - Although the bye in next week's sectional wasn't on the line, the focus was definitely on bragging rights Monday night when Wheeling Park played host to long-time rival John Marshall at Patriots Field.
The Monarchs (17-13), the top seed heading into the West Virginia Section One, Class AAA event to be played at Brooke High School, ended up sweeping the regular season series from Park behind the rubber-armed pitching of Josh McKown and a two-run long ball provided by familiar Patriots nemesis Aaron Fonner.
McKown's pitch count exceeded the 120-pitch mark but he clearly was still throwing hard at the end while tossing a four-hitter and surviving eight walks with 11 strikeouts as John Marshall went home the 5-2 winner.
''That's pretty much Josh McKown's modus operandi,'' Monarchs coach Bob Montgomery said. ''He walks people early in games, gets settled in and is very strong at the end. (Monday) was probably his best performance.''
''He got the big 4-3 double play turned by Shane (Wellman) with the bases loaded and Mitch Whorton came in and saved the 3-2 lead with a scoop at first base in the sixth inning."
All of McKown's walks were issued during the first four innings. He finished the game by setting down nine of the last 10 Patriots batters when he collected five of his 11 strikeouts.
Fonner, whose knee problems prevented him from playing baseball his junior season, tied into a Matt Brooks pitch in the second inning and smashed the ball over the fence with a teammate aboard.
The two-run home run erased a 1-0 Park advantage and keyed the three-run rally that gave John Marshall a lead for keeps.
It was Fonner's fourth home run of the spring and his second big blast at the expense of the Patriots. On April 3, Fonner belted a two-run walkoff shot in the bottom of the seventh providing the Monarchs with a 2-0 victory to reward Wellman's sparkling one-hit pitching that day.
''Aaron's been a big addition to our team this year," Montgomery said. ''We haven't hit many home runs but he's got the most of them. He is our team leader in homers, triples and batting average. His average with runners in scoring position is .540 and that also leads our team.''
The veteran Monarchs' mentor also stressed that pride was on the line for both the Patriots and Monarchs regardless of the circumstances entering last night's game that was played in near-perfect weather conditions.
''John Marshall-Wheeling Park is always big for both schools," Montgomery said. ''We may have the bye going into the sectional but anything can happen in tournament play. I think all thee of us are pretty even.''
However, the way John Marshall has played in the last month, the edge certainly looks to be in the Monarchs' favor. After a 1-6 start to the season, the Monarchs have won 16 of their last 23 games.
''I know everybody basis success of how you do in the tournament, but I really pleased with the way our kids have played. I really like these group. It's fun coaching them," Montgomery said.
The loss to the Monarchs was another tough pill to swallow for the Patriots and first-year coach Mike McLeod.
''We're very close to being the kind of team I think we can be," he said. ''But we just didn't make the plays tonight and we didn't take advantage of the opportunities that they gave us.''
The Patriots (5-13) stranded 10 baserunners, the most frustrating innings being the second and third frames when they failed to score after McKown walked the bases loaded both times.
''We didn't have very good at-bats in those situations," McLeod said. ''In the field, we gave them too many outs. It was still a one-run game with two outs in the top of the seventh, then we didn't make a couple of plays and they scored two more runs."
The Patriots managed two of their four hits and took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Cameron Amend led off with a single to center, stole second and scored on a throwing error that allowed Andrew Kowalo to reach first safely. That would be John Marshall's only miscue while the Patriots had five errors.
Zach Winland opened the top of the second with a double over Ethan Jacobs' head in right. Fonner then drilled his two-run home run over the 360-foot mark in center field.
John Marshall added a third run in the inning when Tyler West reached on a boot at second base, moved up on a ground ball and scored on Ryan Gellnar's singled down the left field line.
Park got a run back in the fourth frame as Michael Grove walked and Amend doubled down the right-field line.
The Patriots had a chance to get even in the bottom of the sixth with two out as Jacobs singled and moved up on a wild pitch. Kowalo then hit a one-hopper to Jake Lucas at shortstop and his low throw was taken on an excellent scoop at first base by Wharton, retiring the side and leaving the Monarchs ahead 3-2.
With two outs in the top of the seventh, John Marshall provided McKown with two insurance runs after an error and bad hop single were followed by Lucas' line shot down the left field line that went for a two-run triple.
McKown then put the finishing touches on his four-hit victory with strikeouts of Pyle, Justice Jackson and Drake in the home half of the seventh.