Morgantown Trumps Wheeling

A year ago, Morgantown Post 2 was within one game of making it to the American Legion Baseball World Series before losing in the regional finals.

After defeating Wheeling Post 1 by a 5-3 score Saturday morning at the John Marshall High School diamond in Glen Dale, manager Ernie Galusky’s team stood just one victory shy of winning its second straight West Virginia state championship.

Solid pitching through 8 2/3 innings from Cole Mertins, two long home runs and a key one-out sacrifice bunt late in the game helped put Morgantown (27-12) in the driver’s seat and left Wheeling on the brink of elimination.

Post 1 defeated South Charleston 12-11 in Saturday’s elimination game to set up a rematch today with Morgantown. Wheeling rallied to score five runs in the final two innings.

Wheeling must defeat Morgantown twice today beginning at noon to claim the Area One title.

Mertins, a University High School athlete, surrendered eight hits, striking out three and walking three. He carried a four-hit shutout into the top of the ninth before Wheeling rallied to score three times and brought the tying run to the plate. At this point, Morgantown coach Ernie Galusky put left-handed sidearmer Michael Martin in to pitch and he was able to retire Cody Bishop on a game-ending ground ball that was turned into a forceout at second base.

Post 1 collected four hits in the final inning, beginning with Heath Beecher’s one-out home run run to the opposite field in right which trimmed the Morgantown lead to 5-1. Dillon Magnino followed with a sharp single to left and, after Christian Lewton flew out, Clark Sambuco got things going again when a blast of his own that nearly cleared the fence.

Sambuco’s drive to the opposite field landed at the base of the right-field fence and went for a double, scoring Mangino. Andrew Kozusko bounced a single past the shortstop, plating the third run of the inning before Martin came on and recorded the final out.

The damaging inning for Wheeling occurred in the bottom of the eighth as Morgantown was able to score three times against reliever Chad Kimpel. Zack Miller and Chris Armistead laced back-to-back singles to get things started. Although Post 2 had one out at the time, Galusky gave the signal for his No. 9 hitter Victor Sivanuri to drop down a sacrifice bunt, which he did successfully.

With Ben Miller at the plate, Kimpel delivered a breaking pitch down in the dirt and when the ball bounced past Kozusko resulting in a wild pitch, Miller scored to put Morgantown ahead 3-0. Ben Miller then got into Kimpel’s next pitch and drove the ball over the right-field fence for a two-run homer that extended the lead to five runs.

When asked about the decision to have Sivanturi bunt, Galusky replied, ”that’s kind of how we’ve won games all year. We lost most of our threats in the lineup last year. Injuries at the start of this season forced us to adapt, adjust and try a lot of different things to score runs. One thing we have done real well for about the last three weeks is execute.

”It’s one thing to talk about executing and practicing it, but if you don’t do it, you’re not going to be successful. So far in this tournament, we have executed pretty well,” Galusky added.

The Morgantown coach offered several compliments to Saturday’s opponent. These two well-coached and well-disciplined teams have come across each other often at the state tournament level during the past several summers.

”Wheeling always has a very good team,” Galusky pointed out. ”I told their coaching staff that in my five years of legion baseball which has seen us travel all over the country, Post 1 was the best coached team we have played against and I sincerely meant it. This was a great baseball game. The reason we met in the winner’s bracket (Saturday) is because both teams have pitched well, managed some timely hitting and played flat out, lights out defense.”

Wheeling went 21 and 2/3 innings before committing its first error in this weekend’s state tournament. Morgantown made it through its first three games without a single miscue.

Post 1 manager Tom Pasco agreed with his counterpart’s comments about the defense played by both teams, but expressed disappointment that his club didn’t take advantage of its opportunities. After getting several clutch hits the first two days, Wheeling went without any timely hits until the ninth-inning rally that was too little and too late to change the outcome.

”We had mental mistakes on the bases that killed us and one time a guy didn’t swing when he had the hit and run on,” Pasco said.

Trailing 1-0 entering the top of the sixth, Wheeling had a golden opportunity after Brian Coen singled and hustled all the way around to third base on Warren Hammel’s sacrifice bunt. However, Coen was cut down at the plate for the second out of the inning after Ryan Sengewalt’s hot smash was fielded by Mertins at the mound.

”We were running on contact everywhere but if the ball was hit to the pitcher,” Pasco explained. ”The kid made a heck of a grab and threw the ball home for the out. We hit the ball hard several times but it went right at them.”

Lewton also pitched well only to come up short of a victory. He was locked in a scoreless duel with Mertins until the bottom of the fifth when Scott Dicken crushed one of his high fast balls and sent it well over the fence in right field to give Morgantown the lead.

In the sixth inning, Post 2 added another run by again utilizing the sacrifice bunt. Greg Hawkins led off the inning with a leg double on a line drive hit over the head of Hammel at second base. Zack Miller bunted him to third and Hawkins scored on Armistead’s sacrifice fly to left field.

Wheeling had a chance to take the early lead when Hammel led off the game by raking a 3-1 pitch into right center for a double. But he was still stationed at second base when the inning ended after Sengewalt flied out to left field, Heath Beecher was called out on strikes and Dillon Mangino was retired on a fly ball to right.

Two of Mertin’s three walks came in the fourth inning but Mangino was cut down trying to steal second and Lewton was picked off first base for the third out.

Kozusko was the only Post 1 player with two hits as he singled twice. Beecher’s home run and the doubles by Hammel and Sambuco were Wheeling’s only extra-base hits against Mertins.

Lewton took the loss, allowing only eight hits, walking four and fanning four.

”(Lewton) did an outstanding job with that changeup and split finger he throws,” Galusky said. ”We had to scrape and battle for everything we got.”

Mertins, on the other hand, really stepped up and filled a void on the Morgantown pitching staff.

”He was on our junior legion team until the end of last season but he didn’t pitch an inning for us,” Galusky explained. ”This year we penciled him as our No. 4 starter but we lost our top three early in the season with injuries and he automatically got bumped to being our No. 1 guy.”