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St. John Neumann has incredible comeback to defeat Cowanesque Valley

MANSFIELD — St. John Neumann produced a stunning comeback last year when it scored three seventh-inning runs, defeated Cowanesque Valley and captured its first District 4 Class A championship. The way Neumann won that game was as impressive as the historical championship.

Now, remarkably, that comeback is only the second-best Neumann has made these past two years. The difficulty level was turned up even higher in Monday’s district semifinals and the Knights trailed by five in the sixth inning; three in the seventh.

Again, they won. Again, they showed exactly why they are not just good baseball players, but absolute fighters.

JerVal Weeks-Shuler dazzled in relief, Ryan Thompson hit a two-out, game-tying seventh-inning single and Kane Wright followed with a go-ahead, two-out, two-run single an inning later as Neumann stormed back to defeat CV, 9-6 in eight thrilling innings at Mansfeld University’s Shaute Field.

Neumann advances to its second straight championship and will play top-seeded Benton Thursday at Bowman Field. Regardless of what happens there, all those who wore the Maroon and Gold will never forget what they did Monday.

“We were still confident The whole way through it was let’s keep our foot on the gas and not let up. This is probably one of the wildest high school games I’ve ever played in,” Weeks-Shuler said after closing the game with three scoreless innings and seven strikeouts. “We don’t give up. We keep fighting until we can’t anymore. You can come at us but we’re never going to back down.”

Neumann (10-8) proved it yet again against a team which had everything going its way while building a 6-1 lead entering the sixth inning. The Knights had three hits at that point and there was no indication that they may stage a huge comeback.

But then they did. The stats can measure a lot of things, but not this team’s heart.

Neumann scored twice in the sixth, three times in the seventh and three more times in the eighth off two excellent pitchers. It was not one or two players producing either. It was the whole team with all parts of the order collecting hit and making plays.

When everything had to go right, Neumann was at its best and left its boisterous, loyal fans gasping for air by game’s end.

“I had faith in us the whole time. I know we were down a lot but we did the same thing last year and I believed we could do it again and that’s exactly what we did,” Wright said. “Everybody went out and executed and it’s probably our greatest team win this season.”

“That was an amazing comeback. I’ve been coaching at Neumann for the last 10 years and this is easily one of the biggest wins we’ve ever had. Down 6-1 against a good team in the sixth inning and winning is incredible,” assistant coach Paul Roman said. “The kids didn’t roll over. Throughout the lineup everybody stepped up, but the seniors especially across the board contributed and that was the big thing. Nobody shied away from the moment.”

Roman replaced coach Cory Burkholder who was ejected in the seventh inning after Wright was not granted first base after being hit by a pitch with the umpire saying he did not try to avoid it. All that did was fan the flames of what already had become a raging Neumann inferno and Thompson tied the game two batters later with his two-out RBI single to left field.

One could write a novel about everything which happened in this game and all the different heroes but it’s best to start with the final inning and how Neumann won. After Wright made a super play at second base to prevent the winning run from scoring from third in the seventh, Aiden Vogt and Naz Smith ignited the game-winning rally by drawing one-out walks.

After McGwire Painter, who was pulled after the fifth inning after fanning nine to stay eligible to pitch Thursday before re-entering in the seventh, produced his 11th strikeout, Kane Wright turned his brother’s advice into an unforgettable family moment. Chase Wright had been retired a batter earlier and told Kane to expect a heavy dose of curveballs.

Facing a 2-2 count, Kane remembered what his brother said, stayed with the breaking ball and scorched the two-run single into center field. For the first-time all-day Neumann led and Weeks-Shuler built on it a batter later, belting an RBI double which made it, 9-6.

“My brother came up to me and was telling me he got three straight curveballs, so I was expecting curveballs. At 2-2, being a pitcher, I know he’s going to throw a breaking ball so I stayed back on it and just drove it,” Wright said. “It was very exciting, but I wasn’t really focused on the hit. I was just thinking now we have to execute on defense to hold it.”

They did.

Weeks-Shuler was virtually untouchable over the final three innings and the gutsy senior leader closed out his stellar outing with his seventh strikeout on his 105th pitch. Kane Wright replaced Weeks-Shuler, induced a pop-out to shortstop Naseer Dymeck on his first pitch and the celebration was on following this improbable, remarkable comeback.

“When I first started pitching, I was definitely in my head a little bit but my teammates kept motivating me and picking me up. That just gave me confidence,” Weeks-Shuler said. “I know my team has my back always.”

“We have tough kids. They just have to prove it to themselves because we have all the confidence in them. They certainly have the ability,” Roman said. “It was contributions throughout and That’s big and that’s what a team is.”

Neumann did not score until the fifth inning when Dymeck (2 for 3) singled, stole second and third and came home on Mark Roman’s grounder. Trailing 6-1 in the sixth, Kane Wright reached on a one-out error, Weeks-Shuler singled and both scored on a Thompson RBI grounder and Dymeck 2-out RBI single.

Still, the Indians led 6-3 and were just two outs from victory with nobody on base in the seventh. Vogt sparked a big surge with a one-out single before Naz Smith reached on a two-base error. Chase Wright then scorched a two-run single into right field and reached third when the ball was misplayed. Painter came back in at that point but Thompson delivered the latest clutch hit in a decorated Neumann career, tying the game.

CV had scored five runs in the third and fourth innings despite producing just an infield single during a three-run fourth. Weeks-Shuler, however, slammed the door on CV from there, allowing just two more hits, an infield single and a bunt single. The seeds of a comeback were being planted and they grew into one of the best wins in program history.

“Everybody did their job,” Wright said. “Everybody came up and put the bat on the ball and fielded it and did something to help. It was great.”

Neumann 000 012 33–9 9 4

C. Valley 002 310 00–6 6 4

McGwire Painter, Tucker St. Peter (6), Painter (7), Jordan Vargeson (8) and Mike Sipps. Aiden Vogt, JerVal Weeks-Shuler (4), Kane Wright (8) and Shuler, Vogt (4). W: Weeks-Shuler. L: Painter. S: Wright.

Top Neumann hitters: Naseer Dymeck 2-3, RBI, run, 2 SB; Weeks-Shuler 2-4, 2B, RBI, run, 3 SB; Ryan Thompson 2-5, 2 RBIs; Vogt 1-3, BB, run; Chase Wright 1-5, RBI, R; Kane Wright 1-4, 2 RBIs, 2 runs. Top CV hitters: Kade Sottolano 1-3, 2B, 2 RBIs; St. Peter 1-4, 2 R; Painter 1-4, 2 runs; Carter Ackley 1-4, run; Sipps 1-3; Glenn Barnes 1-2, 2 runs.

Records: Neumann (10-8), CV (11-10).

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