INDIANA COUNTY LEAGUE: Bovard hangs on to win title
BOVARD — For a team that made so many vital stops in the field throughout the series, it seemed appropriate that an acrobatic catch would end the best-of-seven Indiana County League championship series.
With the potential game-tying run on first in the top of the seventh inning, Bovard’s Anthony Marazza made a diving catch on a line drive to preserve a 3-2 win and propel the Bison to their fourth straight league title in Game 5 on Friday evening at Bovard Field.
Bovard (28-3) became the first team since West Lebanon to win four consecutive league titles. West Lebanon won 11 titles in a row from 1995 to 2005.
With a 2-2 count and with the tying runner on first, pinch-hitter Bobby Gaston drilled a looping line drive to right that Marazza tracked down on a fully extended diving catch to finish the game and the series.
“I knew he was going to go for it,” said longtime Bovard player-manager Mike Johnson. “I knew he wasn’t going to hold up. That’s just the way he plays, 110 percent. That’s why I love him.”
Marazza admitted that he didn’t have time to make a decision. His only choice was to react and rely on his instincts.
“I really wasn’t thinking about it. I was just trying to make a play,” said Marazza. “I just reacted. It was hit pretty hard so I almost had to catch it at that point. I got a good jump on it, and that kid (Gaston) goes opposite field a lot, so I was kind of looking for it. I guess you could say I was anticipating it.”
Zak Zimmerman doubled in Bovard’s first at-bat before scoring later in the inning on a Zach Martin sacrifice fly to make it a 1-0 game.
After stranding two runners in the top of the second, Blairsville took just its third lead of the series by plating two runs on two hits, two walks and two errors in the third for a 2-1 lead.
Bobby Thompson ripped a two-run single that scored Ben Doak and Scott Harsh. Bovard left fielder Steve Anderson heaved an accurate and timely throw to the plate that beat Harsh.
But catcher Anthony Bozzuto dropped the ball when he made the tag, allowing the run to score.
“Something we pressed on was trying to get a lead early, but they kind of took that from us,” said Blairsville player-manager Joe Culler. “I give our guys a lot of credit for responding and taking the lead. We just weren’t able to hang on to it, but that’s what good teams do. They find a way to win and Bovard definitely found a way to win tonight.”
Harsh escaped a pair of jams in the third and fourth innings, but he didn’t have the same luck in the sixth. Martin smacked an RBI single with two outs to score Marazza, tying the game, 2-2.
The following inning and with two strikes and two outs, Zimmerman lined an RBI single over the head of first baseman David Doak to score Matt Moyer for the eventual game-winning run.
Zimmerman finished 9-for-12 in the series and garnered the most valuable player award.
“(Zimmerman) is a good hitter. We tried pitching him in and out and he was tough,” said Culler. “Seven or eight of his hits were with two strikes, so hats off to him. He won the series MVP and that was well deserved. He really picked up the slack for a lot of the guys we were pitching around, the guys that didn’t have quite as good of a series as last season. That’s what good teams do. They have players step up at the plate, and that’s what he did.”
Johnson pointed to his team’s deep pitching staff as the primary key to besting Blairsville for the eighth time in nine championship series games.
“It’s nice to have a consistent group of guys that keep coming back, (and) we pick up a couple guys every year, but our pitching always remains the same,” said Johnson, who totaled five hits in the last three games of the series. “I got veteran guys (and) I got young guys like (winning pitcher) Ryan (Bills). Pitching was absolutely the key.
“(Buzzard) started out with a three-hitter (and) then Joel (Martin) had a no-hitter. (Joe) Novak pitched a great game and (Hassinger) pitched a great game, in a losing effort. Our pitching was all-around pretty dominant, but so was Blairsville’s. They kept things real close.”
Blairsville left at least one runner on base in each inning and finished with 11 stranded runners. Bovard left 10 runners on base.
In the series, the Bison outhit the Colts, 41-19, and outscored them, 24-11. Blairsville mustered 48 hits in nine playoff games.
Despite coming up short for the second straight year, Culler mainly wanted to talk about how optimistic he feels thinking about next season.
“That’s the groundwork of a good championship team,” said Culler. “Hopefully we set the groundwork here in the series and we can continue next year and try to make a run at it again.”
Thompson went 12-for-30 in the postseason and received the sportsmanship award for the playoffs.