WELLSBURG - Even though his team just dropped Game 1 of a sectional series, Brooke catcher Chad Harper kept his spirit high entering the second game.
"We all were pumped for the next one," Harper said as the Bruins fell 8-1 to Wheeling Park on Monday, completing Saturday's delayed contest. "Our confidence coming in was huge. We didn't want to let our seniors down. This is their year to shine."
Just before Brooke took the field in Game 2, coach Ron Ujcich pulled his seniors aside.
"I said, 'Hey lead us,' " said the nine-year coaching veteran. "You guys lead and the rest of the team will follow. No ifs, ands or buts about it - they proved they could do that in Game 2."
Following on cue, Harper - a sophomore - did his part as well.
He tripled in the third inning and added insurance on a two-run single in the fifth as the Bruins topped the Patriots, 6-1, to force a deciding Game 3 at 5 today.
"The guys responded well after a defeat earlier in the day," Ujcich said. "They bounced back and did some things right.
"We got the key hits with runners in scoring position and that was huge for us."
Brooke's Nick Ossman scored the first run after reaching on an error in the second inning. Russell Schwertfeger singled to lead off the third inning and he scored on Heath Hildreth's sacrifice fly to center field, two batters later.
With two outs, Harper delivered a full-count pitch to the wall in right-center field.
"On that big one, the first thing I was thinking was that (the center fielder) was catching it," Harper said. "But (the first base coach) sent me to second. "All of a sudden, I'm rounding the base and I see the ball sail over the third baseman's head."
Harper made it to third base before the throwing error, then "I thought I just had to make it home."
He was credited with a triple and scored the third run.
Harper came up big again in the fifth by plating Kealan Welch and Hildreth on a single up the middle.
"That was huge," Harper said. "It gave us even more confidence going into the last inning."
The Bruins tacked on another in the sixth when Aaron Walker scored on an errant pick off throw.
Hildreth, who pitched the last two innings of Game 1, started Game 2 and went five innings. The senior struck out three, walked two and allowed three hits.
"Hildreth just had it," Harper said. "He was on-point with everything. His pitches were moving. He did everything he had to on the mound."
There was some controversy, though, as Hildreth prepared to take the mound in the sixth inning.
Ujcich, the umpires and Wheeling Park coach Mike McLeod met to discuss Hildreth reaching the pitching limit.
"Heath pitched a heck of a game," Ujcich said. "There was some debate about the pitching rule. I wanted to err on the side of caution. I didn't want to make him or myself ineligible by not knowing the rule.
"I'm almost 100-percent sure I'm right and he was fine. That would just be like if he threw two innings (a previous day) and then he has five (Monday)."
Nonetheless, he was lifted for fellow senior Schwertfeger, who allowed one run on one hit, striking out two and walking one.
"They're a great team," McLeod said. "We knew coming in that they were going to battle on their home turf. They beat us in all aspects of the game."
Now, the teams are faced with one more game to decide the fate of their respective seasons.
"We're living for another day," Harper said. "All the momentum is in our favor."