MORGANTOWN - The moment Grove Calvert squeezed his glove Friday, to secure the final out, the wait for the Wheeling Park baseball team was over.
Morgantown High's agonizing wait to play in the state tournament continues.
Behind a barrage of fastballs, Patriots' pitcher Michael Grove cruised through five innings and Wheeling Park held off a late rally by the Mohigans to capture the Region I championship with a 9-6 victory, at Mylan Park.
Photo by Nick Jarvis/Morgantown Dominion Post
Wheeling Park pitcher Michael Grove fires a pitch plateward during the Patriots’ 9-6 Class AAA Region One victory over Morgantown Friday in Morgantown. Park advances to its first state baseball tournament since 1989 with the victory.
The Patriots had waited since 1989 to advance to the state tournament.
"Only the second team in school history to make it this far," Grove said after striking out nine and allowing only three hits over 5.2 innings. "It feels pretty great right now."
Wheeling Park advances to the state tourney to play Riverside on Friday, at Appalachian Power Park. Riverside defeated Greenbrier East, 9-4, Friday.
How long of a wait has it been for the Patriots (19-6)?
"I was in my first year of middle school in 1989," Wheeling Park coach Mike McLeod said. "I actually have a golfing buddy who played on that team. He lets me hear about it all the time."
Morgantown High (19-12) fell one game short for a second consecutive season. The Mohigans haven't played in a state tournament since 1976.
"There are different things you could point to, but the main reason we didn't win this game was because we couldn't throw it over the plate," MHS coach Mark McCarty said. "We kind of got taken out of it early, but our kids continued to fight. They've done that for most of the season."
Four MHS pitchers combined for eight walks and two hit by pitches.
Wheeling Park dominated early, taking a 7-0 lead after three innings.
Grove powered through MHS hitters early, striking out seven of the first 11 batters he faced.
"My thinking is I'm going to keep throwing the fastball until they hit it," Grove said. "It was working early. I didn't look to throw much of anything else until later."
McCarty, meanwhile, was forced to go to Plans B and C. MHS starter Nick Gallagher was pulled after just three hitters and Grove singled with the bases loaded to score two runs and Eric Crow scored on a throwing error. Grove later scored on a MHS fielding error.
"You see the slow start they had and all you can think is we were fortunate, but we had to stay focused," McLeod said. "We knew they had the ability to score some runs."
The Patriots, who dropped a pair of 4-3 decisions to MHS during the regular season, added three more in the third with a sacrifice RBI from Chalmer Moffett and Calvert and Zane Hummel each added RBI singles.
"Even when we were down, 7-0, I felt like we would eventually get to their pitcher," McCarty said. "He threw very hard, but he was mostly used as a closer."
By the time Grove was pulled - he said he had lost his velocity - the Mohigans began to take advantage.
Trailing, 9-2, in the bottom of the seventh, Dakota Carr singled with the bases loaded and Jordan Page and Josh Stegmaier each drove in a run with ground ball outs.
Reliever Justice Jackson, who earned the save, came on to record the final three outs of the inning, including Tyler Shorter's flyball to Calvert that began a Wheeling Park celebration.
Grove added three hits and four RBIs on the day, while Calvert and Hummel each added two hits.
"It's been more than 20 years since our school has been to the state tournament," Grove said. "We've been loose all season. I feel we can go down and get some things done in the tournament."