GIRARD - With one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, Girard's Jim Melfi was close to being on the wrong end of a 1-0 loss to Liberty.
The run was unearned and the game was a Division III sectional final.
Like all clutch players, though, Melfi took matters into his own hands when he tied the game with one swift stroke of his bat, which crushed Jared Wiesen's 1-0 fastball over the left-field fence at Liberty Park in Girard on Wednesday.
Jim Melfi stars in sectional victory.
That was only the end of the first act of a show that saw Melfi and Wiesen duel for three more innings before the Indians eventually completed their comeback and earned a 2-1 win over the Leopards.
"I can guarantee you there wasn't a better game played in the state tonight," Girard coach Jason Johnson said. "This team never got down, and they just kept playing. Jim was just great tonight - as was Wiesen. Melfi just focused, beared down and put us in a position to win."
Melfi's first real jam developed in the third when Vinny Gutierez led off with a single, was pushed to second on a sacrifice bunt by Nick Byce, and advanced to third when Lou Rivera grounded a single into left field.
A few pitches later, Gutierez nearly got caught off third base, but Girard catcher Zane Chase threw the ball into left field, allowing him to trot home with the game's first run.
Wiesen continued to cruise from there. He retired six of the next seven Indians, who only got a single from A.J. DeVore in the fourth inning. For the next three and one third innings, he allowed only one baserunner.
Then Melfi stepped to the plate with one out on the seventh and turned on that fateful pitch.
"I've been struggling the last few nights hitting the ball, so when I saw it, my eyes got real big, and I wanted to take it for a drive," Melfi said.
Melfi himself set a lot of the stage for his heroics in the bottom of the fifth inning when Wiesen lined a single to center field, and moved to third when Tyler Alejars misplayed a ball in right field. With runners on second and third with no outs, Melfi struck out Justin House and then flirted with disaster when he uncorked a wild pitch all the way to the backstop.
Alert to his surroundings, Chase wrangled the ball, flung it to Melfi, who just tagged Wiesen at the plate.
"We definitely had our chances," Liberty coach Gary Knittle said. "A close play at the plate there goes one way or another, and we win 2-1. Words are tough right now, but they competed - every single one of these guys. Liberty baseball's come a long way."
The bottom of the 11th inning was the farthest the Leopards went this year, and the beginning of the end came when Alejars legged out an infield single. He then moved to second on Dan Graziano's sacrifice bunt.
Alejars took matters into his own hands two pitches later when he stole third base. Two pitches later, Jordan Graziano flew a ball to left field, deep enough for Alejars to tag and score easily for one of Girard's landmark victories.
"We stayed strong, and did what we had to do - and that's how tournament games should be played," Johnson said. "I'm just happy to come away with a win - that's a great team over there."