What looked like a blow-out later turned to a nail-biter, but either way Charleston Catholic celebrated its first baseball state championship Saturday afternoon.
The Irish held a seven-run lead before Magnolia struck for six runs in its final two at-bats. In the end, Catholic held to win the Class A championship 9-8 at Appalachian Power Park.
"We made it interesting, but we found a way to win," Irish Coach Bill Mehle said. "We said before this game 'We know we will find a way to win.' We knew what we were going up against."
Catholic entered the game with just a 1-6 record in the state tournament. Despite a 9-2 lead through five and one-half innings, Mehle said nothing's guaranteed in the championship contest.
"Even when we had that seven-run cushion, we knew that was not going to be enough," he said. "You noticed we had seven runs, we were still trying to bunt our way across to get another run on, and that's just smart baseball. When you get into the postseason, you don't take anything for granted."
The victory sparked jubilation from the Irish crowd and players, particularly for the team's seniors who led Catholic to its first-ever state title and program-record 30 wins.
"Words can't even describe it, I'm so happy," senior Rocco Wilcox said. "Even though we probably did not out-hit them, we had smart baseball and we tried to out-play them as best we could. Today, we did, and that's all you can ask for."
Magnolia held a 12-9 advantage in hits, with much of its production coming in the sixth and seventh innings.
In the bottom of the sixth, Drew Keller and Ryan Walton produced three runs on RBI hits as the Blue Eagles cut the Irish advantage to 9-5.
Irish starting pitcher Kiefer Hovorka exited after the sixth as he hit his maximum innings allowed. Wilcox entered in relief to start the seventh for Catholic, but walked the only two batters he faced. Then, Connor Golden took the mound. Golden walked the first batter he faced before striking out the next.
Magnolia's Yale Wetzel produced the Blue Eagle's sixth run on a RBI fielder's choice. With two outs and runners at first and third, No. 9 hitter Keller hit a fly ball to left center field. What appeared to be a game-ending fly-out fell to the ground for a two-run double as the Irish left fielder lost the ball.
At that point, Magnolia trailed 9-8 with Keller on second base and two outs. Golden intentionally walked Blue Eagles lead-off hitter Ryan Walton. Golden then regained his composure to induce a fly-out, this time, the true game-ending fly-out, to shortstop, as the Irish celebrated mob-style.
It wasn't the cleanest victory, but senior Nelson McKown said the end result was the most important.
"It's perfect," he said. "We've been talking about doing this since we were seventh-graders. It's just perfect, exactly how I thought it would be."