Magnolia's Jake Starkey drops down a sacrifice bunt against Notre Dame.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was not the start Magnolia wanted, but the Blue Eagles will take the way it ended.After some sloppy play put the Blue Eagles in an early hole, Magnolia rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh inning to slip by Notre Dame 4-3 in the first Class A semifinal Friday at Appalachian Power Park.Notre Dame (24-11) built its lead with runs in each of the first three innings. The Irish were able to get to Magnolia starting pitcher Zach Willhoite for five hits and were able to keep the Blue Eagles off the scoreboard by picking off four base runners.After Spencer Harlow was hit by a pitch and Josh Baker drove him in with a double, Magnolia coach Dave Cisar opted to remove Willhoite in favor of Kyle Elliott with one out in the third inning.Once Elliott was in the game, Notre Dame's offense disappeared. The Irish had no hits and just one base runner against Elliott as the Blue Eagles senior helped get his team back to the state championship game for the first time since 2006."We didn't hit the ball as well as we'd like to but you can't take anything away from their pitchers," Notre Dame coach Patrick Marozzi said.Cisar credited the Irish for taking the early momentum and said putting Elliott in to pitch was a decision he felt he had to make."They were by far the better ballclub through the first three innings," Cisar said. "They swung the bat, they hit the ball hard and we didn't do much of anything. I decided if I'm going to lose I'm going to go with my best pitcher. Elliott has been a great player for us all year and the last several years at Magnolia, so we made a change in pitching."
Magnolia had just three hits but was able to take advantage of free passes from the Irish pitchers to stay in the game. Notre Dame hurlers walked 11 batters and all four of the Blue Eagles runs were scored by players that reached base on a walk.Not taking advantage of those opportunities hurt Magnolia early, but with the bases loaded in the seventh Tanner Hanna struck for a single that scored the tying and winning runs off Notre Dame's Jordan Miller."We knew that kid was getting tired and he was throwing a lot of balls," Hanna said. "We were just waiting for the right pitch and waiting for him to throw a strike."Marozzi said sometimes the best team does not win and that Cisar told him as much after the game."We've won 20 ballgames for the last three years," he said. "Our expectations were to come down here and win. Coach Cisar just told me we're the better team. We got into the seventh and our pitchers couldn't throw strikes and that is what ultimately cost us the game."Magnolia will play Charleston Catholic in the championship game at approximately 1 p.m. today. The Blue Eagles are seeking their third state championship and are 2-2 all-time in state title games. Today's championship game will be their first in Class A after winning Class AA titles in 1989 and 2006.Reach Tom Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org.