(Chris Allen/Democrat-News) [Order this photo]
The Owls held a 2-1 lead in the semifinal round of the MSHSAA Class 3 Championships at Springfield, but the top-ranked St. Louis club hung a seven-spot on them in the bottom of the sixth for an 8-2 decision.
"I'm proud of our kids," declared MHS head coach Ian Verts. "They came out here in the biggest game played in our program's history, the biggest game many of these kids have had, and they went nose to nose late into the game.
"One or two plays, one or two calls go different ways, maybe we see a different result," he lamented. "It is what it is."
What it was until the Wildcats' late rally was a pitcher's duel, with Marshall senior Aaron Skinner holding his own against another southpaw, junior Davis Vanderslice.
Westminster got on the board in the first inning as senior Tate Matheny stroked a single and stole second base, then completed the circuit on an error. A walk put two runners on base with one out, but junior Henry Tietz snagged a line drive to shortstop and flipped to the second-base bag for an inning-ending double play.
Although the Wildcats put runners on base in each of the next four frames, Skinner continually pitched out of jams.
The Owls went in front in the top of the third. Senior Sebastian Sims ripped a one-out single past third base and Skinner dropped a flare into left field. Junior Zach Bishop drew a walk to load the bases and senior Jordan Pannell took four balls for force in a run.
Tietz broke the tie with a sacrifice fly to deep center field.
"We took advantage of what was there in front of us," Verts said. "I didn't feel like [Vanderslice] was a dominant pitcher, but he did a good job of getting the outs he needed."
Senior Collin Brennan singled to lead off the Marshall fourth, but was wiped out on a double play turned by sophomore shortstop Shane Benes. The Owls didn't get another runner on base, Vanderslice setting down the last 11 batters.
A lead-off walk was the start of Skinner's troubles in the sixth, and he wasn't helped when home plate umpire Leroy Rabb twice reversed his call on an apparent swinging third strike. The batter eventually grounded out, advancing the tying run into scoring position.
A walk was followed by sophomore Jordan Smith's single evened the contest. Senior Jacob Buffa looped a hit over the first baseman's head to stuff the sacks for Westminster's No. 9 hitter, junior Bryce Bell.
Bell ripped a line drive which went all the way to the wall in right-center field, clearing the bases with a triple and chasing Skinner in favor of senior Collin Porter.
"It was a tough situation," Verts said. "We were looking for [Skinner] to roll somebody over" into a double play. "We're going to challenge the nine-hole hitter every time."
After intentional walking Matheny, Porter twice balked paying too close attention to the Missouri State recruit, bringing in two more runs. Bond capped the outburst with a two-out RBI single.
Westminster (28-3) will attempt to win back-to-back titles Saturday against fifth-ranked ABC League rival Lutheran South, which held on to beat Savannah, 8-6. Marshall (17-11) will take on the No. 6 Savages for third place, which is never an easy task after the emotional let-down of a semifinal loss.
"Our kids have shown resilience the entire season," Verts noted. "They're not scared of anybody, they're not going to let one moment be too big.
"They're going to come back and battle," he predicted. "Of course, they want to play for a championship, but now our championship is third place."