Mars celebrates 11th-inning victory over top-seeded West Allegheny in 5A playoffs

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 | 2:35 AM

Four hours after first pitch, long after the sun had set, Mars players and fans joined together on Burkett Field to celebrate their 11-inning victory in the WPIAL baseball playoffs.

This was only a quarterfinal win, but the atmosphere and the suspense made it feel far bigger.

“I can’t think in my 21 years of a bigger win for our program,” Mars coach Andy Bednar said.

Tied in the 11th, Mars sophomore J.J. Wetherholt walked and later scored on senior Matt Fuller’s RBI single as the eighth-seeded Planets upset No. 1 West Allegheny, 4-3, Tuesday night in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

“This is the most electric game I’ve ever been a part of,” Fuller said. “It was unbelievable.”

Fuller was 1 for 5 with three strikeouts before driving Austin Hendrick’s outside fastball into right field, allowing Wetherholt to score from third. The run was the first for either team since the sixth inning.

“He was eating me up pretty much the last three at-bats,” said Fuller, who’d struck out looking against Hendrick in the sixth and eighth innings. “I just put the ball in play and good things happened.”

Mars advanced to face fifth-seed Shaler in a semifinal at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Pullman Park in Butler.

The Planets must make a quick turnaround with limited rest and a taxed pitching staff. The Planets needed three pitchers to complete the victory, leaving both starter Shane Fox (93 pitches) and reliever Joe Craska (105) unavailable for the semifinals.

Shaler also played Tuesday but its 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Gateway ended three hours before Mars and West Allegheny started, leaving the Titans a little more rested.

“One thing our section prepared us for is dogfight after dogfight,” Bednar said.

Mars took a 3-0 lead Tuesday with one run each in the second, fourth and fifth innings.

Planets catcher Teddy Ruffner reached base three times and combined with courtesy runner Brad Astbury to score twice. John Quinn and Craska each had RBI singles.

West Allegheny rallied behind Cameron Panyko Morris’ two-run homer in the fifth. Logan Malatak scored the game-tying run an inning later on a wild pitch, but West A later left the bases loaded in the sixth. Craska used a strikeout and flyout to escape the bases-loaded, one-out jam.

The Virginia Tech recruit pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the win. He allowed one hit, walked six and struck out nine. Once Craska reached his 105-pitch limit, sophomore Alex Heavner recorded the final two outs for the save.

West Allegheny drew eight walks and had two batters hit by pitches but left 13 runners on base. Hendrick was on third when the game ended.

“We needed to come out and play better than we did,” West Allegheny coach Bryan Cornell said. “Five hits in 11 innings is not going to get it done. That’s the bottom line. We had runners in scoring position, and we just couldn’t come up with that timely hit.”

Fox pitched into the sixth inning for Mars. He allowed three runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts.

West Allegheny was more unorthodox with its pitching staff. Freshman Gavin Miller started and threw the first 4 1/3 innings. He allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks.

Cornell then alternated between Ryan Dorste and Hendrick with each pitcher reentering once. Dorste faced five batters and then Hendrick faced the next five. Dorste returned to the mound for three more before Hendrick finished the final 13.

Hendrick allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts and four walks. Dorste pitched two scoreless innings with two strikeouts and no walks.

“In my opinion, they were one of the top teams in the WPIAL,” Cornell said of Mars, “and we see them in the (quarterfinal) round. It was a great baseball game, a classic baseball game. It’s unfortunate there had to be a loser.”

Check out an archived video stream broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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