By NICK BEDWAY
For The Intelligencer
WELLSBURG - Cameron Amend and Zach Drake emerged the unexpected heroes Monday night in leading Wheeling Park past Brooke 9-6 during the opening game of the West Virginia Section One, Class AAA baseball tournament.
Wheeling Park’s Zach Drake, center, is congratulated by teammates including Kelvin Weese (4), Ethan Jacobs (20), Matt Brooks (19) and Grove Calvert (33) after he homered Monday.
Handed the ball to make only his second pitching start of the season, Amend was a little shaky as he fell behind 4-0 in the opening inning and 6-4 heading into the bottom of the third. But he was rock solid the rest of the way, allowing just one hit in the final four innings while pitching the Patriots into today's second round against top-seeded John Marshall.
Drake wasn't supposed to be in Park's starting lineup but got the call when senior centerfielder Dylan Janeczko became ill and didn't even make the trip to Wellsburg.
The junior backup outfielder singled and scored a run the first inning, then delivered the biggest blow of game in the bottom of the fifth. With score tied 6-6, Kyler Fitzpatrick drew a one-out walk and Drake belted a Heath Hildreth pitch well over the fence just to the left of the 365-foot mark in center field for the two-run home run that put the Patriots in front to stay.
''When you have a senior playing your position, it can be tough," Coach Mike McLeod said about Drake's status as Park's fourth outfielder. ''This is a young kid who has worked hard and waited for his opportunities. Right now he might be swinging the hardest bat of anybody on our team. He hit a home run against Harrison (Central) and a huge shot (Monday)."
McLeod also was elated about the pitching performance from Amend, Park's starting second baseman most of the year.
''We gave the ball to a senior who has only thrown one game and that was a 6-1 win against Morgantown, the fifth ranked team in the state," the first-year Patriots' coach said.
''Cameron came to me and asked for the ball. He wanted the challenge and he did a great job."
Amend struck out six, walked three and surrendered a total of eight hits to the potent Bruins lineup. One of the under-the-radar scenarios of the game was Park's evasive tactics whenever Brooke's all-state catcher Nick Breen came to the plate.
The Patriots decided that Breen wasn't going to get any opportunities to beat them. In his first three plate appearances, Breen twice was hit by pitches and walked once. The strategy backfired a bit because the four-year senior standout did score a couple of runs. However, the only time he was allowed to swing the bat came while leading off the seventh inning with Park ahead by three runs. Breen skied out to right field to finish with an 0-for-1 on the day.
''What are you going to do," Bruins' Coach Ron Ujcich responded when asked about the Patriots pitching around Breen. ''I understand the philosophy. Other teams have done it. I wouldn't want to throw to him either. He is probably one of the best hitters in the state."
While Park was enjoying drawing first blood in the double-elimination sectional, the loss left a familiar taste in the mouth of the Bruins, now 14-16 overall. Brooke committed four costly errors in the field, three of which opened the gate for Patriot runs.
''It's all about execution," Ujcich said. ''We have to be able to execute plays. That's the bottom line. We beat ourselves."
Batting first although playing on their home field, the Bruins got off to a quick start by jumping to a 4-0 lead. Russell Schwertfeger and Hildreth teed off on Amend by blasting back-to-back triples. Schwertfeger crashed an 0-2 pitch down the right field line, then Hildreth then tied into the next delivery with a line drive into right center that rolled to the fence for his RBI triple.
After Breen walked, Paul DiPasquale began a three-RBI day for himself with a single into center, putting Brooke up 2-0. An error scored the third run and Kellen Welch's RBI double finished off the four-run inning.
Park bounced right back to tie it. Ethan Jacobs doubled off the fence in left center, then took third on Andrew Kowalo's single to center. Both runners scored after an infield error and a wild throw past third that saw J.R. Pyle eventually thrown out trying to take an extra base. With two out and nobody on, Kyler Fitzpatrick walked, Drake singled and Justice Jackson found the gap in right center for a two-run triple.
Brooke regained the lead 6-4 in the top of the third as Hildreth singled, Breen was hit by a soft curve ball in the back, followed by a wild pitch and DiPasquale's sharp two-run single through the infield.
Pyle singled leading off the Patriots' third and was replaced by courtesy runner Grove Calvert. After stealing second, Calvert took off for third and came all the way around when Breen's one-hop throw got past the third baseman for an error.
Jesse Hartley's single, Julian Figaretti's sacrifice bunt and Jacobs third straight hit, a single to left, tied the score at 6-6 heading into the fifth inning.
Amend escaped a bases loaded, two-out Brooke threat by retiring Welch on a popup to Kowalo at shortstop, then the Patriots struck for three runs in the bottom of the fifth frame to take the lead to stay.
The walk to Fitzpatrick and Drake's long home run brought an end to Hildreth's day on the mound. He was replaced by Steven Jeffries, who allowed the final run on Jackson's single and Figaretti's two-out double that came on a hard shot just inside the bag at third base.
Despite a 7-15 regular season record, McLeod kept the faith and is now hoping to be rewarded with a strong tournament run by his Patriots.
''We have a lot of talent and our kids believe in each other," he said.
After Brooke struck for four runs in the opening inning, McLeod met his players in front of the dugout and told them to keep scratching and keep fighting.
''All year I kept telling them that our record is for people that read the papers. We lost nine games by two runs or less. Two of them were heartbreakers to John Marshall," he pointed out. ''We still have a long way to go but we know what we are capable of doing. The kids are excited about playing John Marshall (today). I hope everyone has their popcorn and are ready to watch what should be a great ball game."
Although the Bruins' backs are to the wall, Ujcich insisted that his team is far from finished.
''We are still in the same situation we faced coming into (Monday). Anyway you look at it, we have to win three to get out of the sectional." he said.