LEGION BASEBALL: Kovacik suffers first loss of season
PUNXSUTAWNEY — The opening day of the Pennsylvania Youth American Legion Western Regional Tournament unfolded in near perfect fashion for host team and Indiana County runner-up I-Medical.
Unfortunately for Indiana County champ Kovacik Insurance, an RBI single with one out and the count full in the bottom of the ninth inning from a Farmington player cost the Blairsville-based team its first loss of the season.
Punxsutawney-based I-Medical jumped out to an early 12-0 lead and limited Stoystown to just four hits en route to a 12-0 win in the last of four games that were played Saturday at Rich Kuntz Memorial Field.
The game was shortened to five innings due to the mercy rule.
C.J. Workman drove in the game-winning run in the ninth to lift Farmington to a 3-2 win over Kovacik Insurance.
The top three teams in the double-elimination tournament advance to the five-day Pennsylvania Youth American Legion state championships, which begin Aug. 2 in Freemansburg.
Both teams play today. I-Medical squares off with Hempfield East in a winners’ bracket game at 7 p.m., and Kovacik Insurance faces Norwin PAL in an elimination game at 10 a.m.
In the third game of the day, Farmington took advantage of a momentary lapse in control from Kovacik Insurance ace Omar Ward in a scoreless game in the third. Ward plunked the inning’s leadoff batter, Workman, before walking back-to-back batters to load the bases with no outs.
Christian Forsythe lifted an RBI sacrifice fly to center field on the next at-bat to make it a 1-0 game. The next batter, Scotty Felice, stroked an RBI single to shallow left field to give Farmington a 2-0 lead.
But Ward quickly regained his confidence and struck out the next two batters, Gage Glover and Colton Bittner, to strand runners on first and third and escape the dilemma.
The Giants responded and plated two runs on two errors, a hit and a walk in the fifth to tie the game, 2-2.
Each team mustered just one hit and one base runner over the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, and neither team moved a runner to third in that span.
In the ninth, Kovacik Insurance’s Kullen Gardner singled and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from John Fetchko. However, Farmington starting pitcher Aaron Skinner got a stroke of luck on the next at-bat when his right fielder, Glover, positioned himself in the ideal spot in right-center field to make a play on a sharply hit line drive from Ricky Shirley.
“That kid made a nice play in right-center (field),” Kovacik Insurance coach Dan Shirley said. “I’m not sure where he was playing to get to that line drive, but I definitely thought it was a hit at first, and then I thought it was going over his head. We had our chances. We just couldn’t get that one big hit when we needed it.”
Kovacik Insurance committed a costly throwing error on the first at-bat of the ninth that allowed Zack Shiley to advance to second.
Ward struck out the following batter, Jay Templeton, only to fire a fastball in the dirt on the next at-bat to allow Shiley to advance to third.
Then, with the count full, Workman got the pitch he was expecting from Ward, a curveball, and drove it over the left fielder’s head to drive in Shiley for the game-winning run.
“My curveball hasn’t been working that good this year, but it was on today,” Ward, who struck out 13 and walked two, said. “I felt good out there. I wasn’t tired and I wanted to be out there. I just wanted to get the win.”
“I knew he was throwing me a curveball,” Workman said. “He threw me a fastball, a curveball, a fastball, a curveball and a fastball, and all his fastballs were high and outside, so I didn’t think he’d go to that. I was 100 percent sure he was coming with a curveball. … I didn’t feel anything when I hit the ball. It just felt like landing a knockout punch.”
Kovacik Insurance became the first team since Young Township in 1990 to finish the Indiana County regular season and playoffs unbeaten. Dan Shirley said his team’s aspirations won’t change with the setback.
“We’ve just got to win every game we play now,” Shirley said. “There’s no room for loss number two.”
I-Medical had no problems in its opener.
“They were pumped up,” first-year I-Medical coach Joe DiPietro said. “They were sitting here all day watching their moms and dads work with us and watching the games, but they just wanted to be on the field. They were so hyped up, and I laughed, because we called for batting practice at 6 p.m., and I told everyone to be in uniform in the cage, and they all showed up at 5:15. They were just excited and they wanted to be out there.”
I-Medical got on the board first and scored three runs on two hits, two errors and a walk in the top of the first inning.
The following inning, I-Medical totaled eight hits and two walks, tacking on nine more runs to stretch its lead to 12-0. Joey DiPietro highlighted the rally with a two-run double over the center fielder’s head. Dylan Huey, Brandon McGee and Caleb Smith each ripped two-run base hits in the inning.
“They were so hyped up, and they jumped right away,” Joe DiPietro said. “We were aggressive and we put the ball in play, and we ended up scoring three runs in the first and a bunch more in the second. They were aggressive when the strikes were thrown and they were just excited about being here. … When you get excited about playing ball, good things always happen.”
Five I-Medical pitchers, one in each inning, teamed up to limit Stoystown to just three singles, a double and six base runners.
Stoystown finished its regular season with a 15-1 record before placing second in the Somerset County playoffs.
“I think playing on their home field was to their benefit,” Stoystown coach Fred Brant said. “We lost one game during the regular season, so we’re definitely a better ball club than what we showed. We just got our heads down and they came ready to play and put the bat on the ball. It seemed like everything they hit found a hole somewhere.”
Huey went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to pace I-Medical. He also fanned two, walked none and allowed one hit in one inning to earn the win.
Smith and McGee each went 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Lucas Ambler struck out two, walked none and surrendered one hit in one inning of relief for I-Medical. Trent Stouffer, Isaac Stouffer and Derek Huey each pitched one inning of relief. Trent Stouffer fanned one, walked one and allowed no hits, Isaac Stouffer struck out one, walked none and allowed no hits, and Derek Huey walked one and surrendered one hit.