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by DUSTIN FILLOY on July 22, 2013 10:30 AM

SOMERSET — Kovacik Insurance created plenty of opportunities. The Indiana County regular-season champ just couldn’t get a clutch hit when it mattered most.

The Blairsville-based entry fell behind 3-0 early and never regained its footing, mustering just six hits while stranding 10 runners en route to a 6-2 loss to Mifflin County in a winners’ bracket game of the Pennsylvania Senior American Legion Region 7 tournament Sunday at Somerset High School.

Both teams advance to play in today’s double-elimination tournament. Kovacik Insurance (18-6) locks horns with Philipsburg, and Mifflin County takes on Unity.

“It just didn’t happen for us today,” Kovacik Insurance manager Bob Thompson said.

“We had a couple big opportunities where we didn’t come through. That hurt but at the beginning of the game.

“I just think we walked too many guys and gave too many free passes. I really didn’t think they were that great of a hitting team.”

Drew Hannon gave Mifflin County an early lead when he singled and scored later in the top of the second inning on a botched pickoff attempt from Kovacik Insurance starting pitcher Bobby Thompson.

In the same inning, Logan Swineford walked, advanced to second on a passed ball and then scored on a base hit from Cy Treaster to make it a 2-0 game.

Aaron Michaels then extended Mifflin County’s lead to 3-0 by walking and scoring later in the inning on a wild pitch from Bobby Thompson.

“Getting up is always important,” Mifflin County manager Larry Wolfe said. “Psychologically it’s always good to answer when a team gives you an early opportunity, and we did that today.”

John Distefano singled and scored two batters later on a base hit from Andrew Iezzi to cut Mifflin County’s lead to 3-1. But later in the inning, with the bases loaded and no outs, the No. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in Kovacik Insurance’s lineup — Reed Ratkus, Bobby Thompson and Adam Magalich — were retired in succession.

Mifflin County shortstop Lucas McKay made a stellar play on Magalich’s groundball near second base to ultimately end the hope of Kovacik’s rally in the inning.

“That doesn’t usually happen with those three guys,” Bob Thompson said of Ratkus, Bobby Thompson and Magalich. “They’re all better-than-average hitters but they just didn’t swing the bat all that well today.”

Mifflin County plated two runs on four walks and a base hit in the top of the fourth to jump out to a 5-1 lead.

In the bottom of the fourth, Scott Thompson was hit by a pitch and scored on a groundball from Taylor Sheriff to make it a 5-2 game.

From that point on, however, Mifflin County pitcher Heath Hidlay shut out Kovacik Insurance, allowing just three hits and no walks over five scoreless innings.

Hidlay also escaped a bases-loaded jam with one out in the bottom of the sixth by inducing Sheriff to hit into a double play.

“We’ve really been strong up the middle, particularly in this tournament,” Wolfe said. “We had five double plays in our first game, and they don’t say it’s the pitcher’s best friend for no reason. If you force people to hit their way on, and you catch the ball, it makes it really difficult to score runs.”

Sheriff struck out three, walked two and allowed just one hit and one run in 5 2-3 innings of relief for Kovacik. He finished the game after entering in the fourth inning.

Manager Bob Thompson said that Sheriff’s impressive performance preserved some of Kovacik Insurance’s most important arms, a fact that could prove crucial down the stretch in the five-day tournament.

“Bobby didn’t feel comfortable from the get-go, so I got him out of there early,” Bob Thompson said. “We got Taylor in after Andrew Schultz, and he just did a tremendous job. He kept us in there and gave us a chance. We just couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities.

“At this point in time, though, the rest of these teams are throwing a lot of pitchers. We have Phillipsburg next and they threw a ton of pitchers the last two days. I think we’re in pretty good shape with where we’re at. We just got to hit the ball and we’ll be fine.”

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