DAVISVILLE - Into the eighth inning, Wednesday's Class A Region 1 baseball semifinal was a scoreless pitchers' duel between Gilmer County's Karl Bennington and Parkersburg Catholic's Mitch Davis at Marshall Romine Field.
But Davis turned from standout pitcher to hitting hero for the host Crusaders in the bottom of the eighth, rifling a game-winning single into left-center field with no outs to score Payton Sturm from second base as Catholic clipped the Titans 1-0 to move within one win of PCHS' first trip to the state tournament since 1993.
The Crusaders, now 19-9, get that opportunity at 5:30 p.m. today when Madonna comes to Romine for the regional championship game. The 22-9 Blue Dons reached the regional finals with a five-inning 11-1 win Tuesday over Cameron.
Sturm, batting ninth, walked to lead off the last of the eighth and then stole second, taking off when Gilmer threw behind him.
That got Sturm into scoring position with the top of the order coming up for Catholic, starting with Davis. ''Mitch wanted to swing away anyway before Payton got to second,'' related Crusader head coach Tom Harvey. ''So then I told him, 'You want to swing, let's go,' and he roped one and Payton scored easily.''
Davis lined his clutch hit up the left-center alley, splitting the Gilmer outfielders and rolling all the way to the outfield fence.
''It was a hot out there on the mound, so I was hoping we'd get a run sometime,'' said Davis, who struck out nine and walked three to Bennington's 13 K's and three walks as they battled to the end ''So when I went up to the plate (in the eighth), I just took a prayer and smacked it.''
Davis said when he shook Bennington's hand after the game, ''I told him, 'You're a heck of a ball player. Keep your head high. We both have a year left, so we could be battling more later on.' ''
Both Gilmer (25-9) and Catholic had some chances to score in the game, but neither was able dent the plate through the first seven frames with Davis and Bennington pitching superbly.
The Titans had two on in the first, but never a runner at third until the top of the eighth when Austin Cunningham's one-out double followed by Austin Ratliff's infield single and an intentional walk to Bennington loaded the bases. But after Cunningham was able to get out of a rundown between third and home and back to third safely on an unsuccessful squeeze play, Davis fanned the next two batters to squelch the threat.
Likewise, the Crusaders had two aboard with no outs in the fourth on back-to-back infield hits by Eric Scott and Zack Romine, but a strikeout and double play cut short that opportunity. And Catholic again had two on with two outs in the sixth on Davis' infield single and steal of second followed by an intentional walk to Romine before Gilmer third baseman Shawn Talbert snagged a hotshot to the hot corner for a fielder's choice at third.
''What a game, one of the best high school ball games I've ever seen,'' marveled Harvey. ''Bennington was as advertised. People told me he was good. I hadn't seen him, but he sure was. He pitched a heck of a game.''
''And what can you say about Mitch? He battles, gets us out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the top of the eighth, then comes up and strokes one for the game-winner. That's fairy tale stuff there.''
For Gilmer head coach Joey Frashure, after praising the effort of both pitchers, thought the story for his team was ''we just blew so many opportunities, left too many runners out there. We had the guys we want up in those situations and, for whatever reasons, didn't come through.''