"Final Four! Final Four! Final Four!"
The Owls had done it, they had taken the giant step into the promised land of the MSHSAA Class 3 Championships for the first time in their 25-year history with a come-from-behind 5-4 quarterfinal victory over eighth-ranked Logan-Rogersville (23-7).
"It's awesome to be where we dreamed about," remarked MHS head coach Ian Verts. "The kids work so hard and they believe in themselves."
Verts returned to his alma mater five years ago after a three-win season, with the current senior class going from 2-21 in 2009 to a district final last season to, finally, the state tournament.
"This senior group is special," Verts said. "They're great leaders, they're smart kids and they have a desire in their belly that just won't let them quit."
And they believe in themselves, not doubting their effort would be rewarded.
"This was our plan from the beginning," asserted senior Aaron Skinner, who pitched the Owls to their fourth district title last week and first sectional win Tuesday. "We knew we had a good team and we've been working hard."
Marshall (17-10) had to overcome some early-game frustration, getting five runners on base during the first four innings only to strand three and having two more wiped out by double plays.
Meanwhile, senior right-hander Jordan Pannell was struggling with command, walking the bases loaded in the third to set up senior Joe Young's two-run single before striking out three batters to get out of the jam.
"I had a problem with the mound," Pannell explained. "My foot slipped every time I threw the ball, so I made an adjustment and moved to the other side of the rubber."
That didn't happen until after the Wildcats added two more runs in the fourth. Senior Trenton Gault led off with a single. A walk, senior Zachary Herman's RBI single and a grounder by Young -- one of four starters left from a Final Four team two years ago -- extended the margin to 4-0. However, Rogersville left two runners in scoring position.
"I think he did a good job with damage control," Verts said about Pannell's escape act. "I was proud of him for battling."
The 'Cats got lead-off batters on base with free passes in each of their remaining three at-bats, but two double plays and a pick-off kept them from advancing.
The Owls hadn't been shut out all season, so in their minds it was only a matter of when, not if, they would score. That happened in the bottom of the fifth, with singles by seniors Collin Porter, Sebastian Sims and Skinner stuffing the sacks with one out and bringing junior Zach Bishop -- one of the team's leading run producers over the past three seasons -- to the plate against a new Rogersville pitcher, sophomore Bailey Jenkins.
It was the scenario Marshall wanted and needed at the moment.
"We believe in him, his teammates believe in him and he produces in big spots," Verts said about his two-time all-conference catcher. "I told him, 'He's got to come to you, and you hit it hard like you do,' and that's what he did."
After looking at two balls, Bishop drove the third pitch 330 feet over the right-field wall for a game-tying grand slam.
"I told myself if he threw me a fastball I was going to bang it," Bishop said about his fourth homer of the season. "He threw me one chest-high, so I just did what I could do with it."
Pannell's double chased the 'Cats' reliever after two batters, but a wild pitch by the new hurler put sophomore courtesy runner Caleb Willis in position to score the go-ahead run on sophomore Tyler Cott's sacrifice fly to right field.
Now the game was back in Pannell's hands, literally the case when junior Justin King lined back to the mound with a runner on first. Pannell snagged it, threw to first base to double-up the runner and then induced a high fly to center field that Skinner hauled in to allow the celebration to begin.
"We've been through tough years in the past and we know sometimes we get disrespected, we don't get credit when we should," Bishop said. "We felt disrespected when we showed up, so we showed everybody who the Marshall Owls were."
Now they'll have a chance to do it on Missouri's largest stage, in Friday's semifinal round at Springfield against the state's top-ranked team -- defending state champion Westminster Christian of St. Louis beating the Owls' NCMC rival Mexico, 11-1.
"I don't think we're done yet," Verts declared. "I think the kids want to win it all.
"We punched our ticket to get there and now we want to cash it in."