After falling behind, 5-0, in the second inning at Williamsport on Friday afternoon, it looked like Marriotts Ridge had lost the 2A South regional championship game almost as soon as the players got off the bus after the hour-long ride to Hagerstown.
But rather than lay down, the Mustangs picked up their bats and got to work, battling back to tie the game at 6-6 in the top of the seventh before ultimately falling to the Wildcats in the bottom of the ninth.
"We have such a tough group of young men," Marriotts Ridge assistant coach Steve Tiffany said. "We were down 5-0 and 6-2 and had the courage to battle back and tie it in the 7th inning at 6-6. Both teams had chances in extras but give credit to Williamsport. They made the plays when they needed to."
The game couldn't have started much worse for the Mustangs. Williamsport senior Bryce Ruppenthal pitched a perfect game through the first three innings, while Marriotts Ridge junior Gunnar Barnard had trouble getting out of the first inning.
Barnard, who has committed to play for the University of Maryland, took a line drive off of the foot in a 3-0 win over Winters Mill on Monday and was questionable for Friday's regional championship.
After giving up five runs on seven hits in the first two innings — including doubles by Ruppenthal, Gage Kyler and Robert Carr — Barnard kept his composure and regained control of the game in the third. After allowing a leadoff double to Kyler, Barnard induced three groundballs to escape the inning unscathed.
"Gunnar is coming off of an injury and pitched his heart out," Tiffany said.
Then, in the top of the fourth, the Mustangs' bats came to life.
Leadoff hitter Joey Fellona started the rally by getting hit by a pitch, then Chris Morath drew a four-pitch walk to put two runners on with no outs. After a Josh Olsufka groundout to move the runners into scoring position, Barnard battled to a full count then delivered a two-run base hit.
The Wildcats got one run back in the bottom of the fourth on a two-out RBI single by Jaustin Itnyre, but the Marriotts Ridge bats stayed hot in the fifth inning.
Jake Dinoto and Reed Galloway started the inning with back-to-back doubles, then Mark Augustino and Morath hit RBI singles around a Fellona walk on full-count.
Marriotts Ridge sophomore Dylan Anagnos came on in relief in the sixth and quelled the Williamsport offense by getting a pair of comebackers to the mound and a pop out to first, all with runners on first and second with no outs.
The Mustangs improbable comeback was finally realized in the top of the seventh. Galloway drew a four-pitch leadoff walk, then Augustino moved him into scoring position with a sac bunt. Fellona then moved him to third, and Morath tied the game with an RBI fielder's choice.
Anagnos then got locked in on the mound, allowing only a two-out single in seventh and getting a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth. But the Mustangs were also only able to muster a single base hit in their next two at-bats.
Finally, in the bottom of the ninth, the game ended when Ruppenthal drew a leadoff walk and scored on an 0-2, two-out RBI single by junior catcher James Melby.
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"They are a well-coached team and will be a tough out in the final four," Tiffany said.
The Wildcats advance to play 2A East champ Queen Anne's on Tuesday at Montgomery Blair High School.
Howard (4A North) and Mt. Hebron (3A East) also lost close games in Friday's regional finals. Check this story's related items for complete coverage of those games.
MR (16-6) 000 230 100 - 6 6 1
W (18-4) 410 100 001 - 7 12 0
Barnard, Anagnos and Fellona. Ruppenthal and Melby.
2B: MR — Dinoto, Galloway. W — Ruppenthal, Kyler 2, Carr.