HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL: Bobcats down Homer-Center to improve to 5-0
BLAIRSVILLE — It took a little while, but once Blairsville settled in, it showed why it’s a 5-0 team.
The Bobcats broke out for nine runs over their final two innings at the plate, coming from behind to defeat rival Homer-Center, 11-4, and extend its season-opening unbeaten run in a Heritage Conference baseball game Tuesday afternoon at WyoTech Park.
“We’ve been putting a lot of runs up on the board,” Blairsville coach Mark Zerfoss said. “We had only one or two runs there for a couple innings. We told the kids, ‘If we can’t score more than one or two runs, we don’t deserve to win. So, if you guys want to win, we’ve got to get the bats alive,’ and then they swung it well.”
Blairsville trailed 4-2 after four innings before batting around in the fifth and sixth. The Bobcats drew 11 walks overall, augmenting their eight hits. Seven different batters got hits, and players in all nine batting spots reached base at least once.
“Walks usually come back and haunt you,” Homer-Center coach Scott Bauer said. “Blairsville’s going to make you pay.”
The Bobcats were sluggish in the early going, and it was Homer-Center (1-3, 1-2 Heritage Conference) that had the momentum.
Blairsville scored single runs in the first and third innings, stranding two runners each time. The Wildcats were the first to cash in, opening up their 4-2 lead after Darren Carr’s RBI double and Bryan Buzi’s towering two-run home run in the top of the fourth.
“The home run Buzi hit was half-way up the trees,” Zerfoss said. “It was a heck of a shot. I went out and talked to (pitcher) Colton (McMillan) and said, ‘Wow, he really roped you. He smoked it. What are you going to say about it? It happens to everybody.’”
McMillan, playing his first game of the season, walked the next two batters and was lifted for freshman left-hander Ryan Shirley, who got Jimmy Bence to fly out to left and end the threat.
Blairsville broke through in the fifth. Two of the first three batters walked, Ricky Shirley hit an RBI single, then Josh Daugherty doubled off the base of the left-field fence to plate another run, tying the score at 4.
Blairsville knocked out Homer-Center starter Stephen Novak and didn’t take it any easier on reliever Anthony Caruso in the late innings.
Rickey Shirley got on base all four times, going 2-for-2 with two runs scored, two RBIs and two walks. Scott Thompson walked three times.
“We can always count on a hit from the no. 8 hitter or the no. 3 hitter,” Ryan Shirley said. “It doesn’t really matter. Then we just keep going.”
“Even the younger kids at the bottom of the lineup, they’ve been contributing tremendously,” Zerfoss said.
That goes for the younger pitchers, too.
Ryan Shirley allowed no runs and just one hit in 3 1-3 innings, striking out two and walking two. He ended up the winning pitcher, his steady hand allowing the offense to do its thing.
“There were two outs,” the freshman said of when he entered the game in the fourth inning, “so I just had to get one out and we were coming up to bat. I got a one-pitch out, and we were pretty fired up then.
“I came in against Ligonier, too, and it was kind of rough at first. I thought, just concentrate on the catcher, throwing strikes to Scott, and I got out of it.”
Homer-Center had seven hits and drew nine walks. Buzi finished 2-for-2, Andrew Gaydosh was 2-for-4 and Carr scored twice. The Wildcats left nine men on base, though.
“We talk about playing fundamental defense — not booting the ball — and throwing strikes,” Zerfoss said. “Make the kids put the ball in play. If they hit it out of the park or they base-hit you to death, so be it, but we just can’t give those free runners. We did that today. We were just fortunate enough to keep them from crossing the plate.”
Both Blairsville’s strong start and Homer-Center’s slow one have been marked by the discontinuity of early-season baseball in the northeast. The game was just the teams’ fifth and fourth, respectively.
“We’ve been throwing bullpens in the gym and we have guys standing in,” Bauer said, “batters in the bullpen taking live reps as well. It’s a challenge, but both teams are going through it. They were in the gym yesterday as well.”
“It’s frustrating,” Zerfoss said. “After being outside and playing games, the last thing you want is to go back indoors and go through hitting stations again.
“We were kind of concerned about not playing in a week, because we were on a pretty good roll, scoring 14, 17 runs in a game and then being off for a week.”