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SENIOR LEGION: Kovacik Insurance adds to trophy case by sweeping championship series

by on July 16, 2014 10:40 AM

Kovacik Insurance could have put Indiana Legion away in the early going Tuesday evening, and it didn’t.

But the Blairsville-based team played too well to let the game — or the Indiana County Senior Legion championship — get away.

Kovacik plated two sixth-inning runs to regain its lead and defeated Indiana Legion, 6-4, to complete a two-game sweep in the best-of-three championship series and claim the crown.

Kovacik jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but stranded 13 runners, including one on third base in each of the first six innings, and Indiana Legion pulled even, 4-4, through three innings.

“They’re resilient,” Kovacik coach Bob Thompson said of his players. “Most of the year we had 10 guys, nine guys, different guys, but somehow we always found a way to win the majority of the games. They’re good players. They’ve been in that situation a lot. Athletics is all about overcoming adversity. You get in front, they come back. You don’t get down on yourselves.”

Kovacik (23-8) and Indiana Legion (15-10) both advance to the Western Regional tournament in Clearfield this weekend.

Kovacik left the bases loaded in the first inning and two on in the second and third as it opened up a three-run lead. The Ponies made Kovacik pay for its negligence, plating three runs to tie the score in the bottom of the third, thanks to a wild pitch and back-to-back RBI doubles by Matt Griffith and Bobby Bell.

Scott Thompson, the Kovacik starting pitcher, made his way through four innings with two strikeouts and four walks. Tayler Sheriff settled things down with three shutout innings of relief for the win.

“I thought when we got that 4-1 lead the game was over with Scott on the mound,” Bob Thompson said. “He didn’t have his best stuff today, so I got Tayler in there as quickly as I could. … They really didn’t hit him hard at all. There were no balls hit hard against Tayler at all in three innings.”

“More than anything it was a change of pace, a different style of pitching,” Indiana Legion coach Joe Weckoski said. “The kids have seen Thompson throw for how long, then you’ve got to adjust, and they didn’t make the adjustments quick enough tonight.”

Kovacik got just five hits but took advantage of eight walks and six errors.

“We had guys in scoring position almost every inning,” Scott Thompson said. “That takes a toll on the defense and the pitchers. I don’t think (the stranded runners) were starting to wear on me, personally. I don’t think it was wearing on any of the guys, but I know my dad, Coach, it was starting to wear on him because he brought it up every inning. (But) we felt comfortable where we were at.”

Scott Thompson, who opened the scoring with a two-run home run in the first inning, drew a walk to lead off the sixth. John Distefano reached on an error trying to sacrifice Scott Thompson to second, and both players scored on errors to build a 6-4 lead.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy for Kovacik.

After two quick outs in the bottom of the seventh, Indiana Legion used a hit and two walks to load the bases before Bobby Bell lined out to the pitcher to end the threat.

“I honestly thought we were going to win it,” Weckoski said. “We’ve done it all year. There were three or four games at least that we came back and won in the bottom half of the inning. A couple times we were down by two or three runs. I had confidence in the kids and they seemed to rally around that a lot.”

“Baseball’s a really funny game,” Bob Thompson said, “because I thought they were dead and buried and (T.J.) Petro gets on and Kevin Jack hits it in the hole. … The next thing you know they’ve got the tying run on second base and they’ve got life. Anything can happen. Just stay up. Don’t ever get down in baseball. Anything can happen.”

Kovacik, which has won four straight regular-season championships, got its second postseason title in that span. The last one was in 2012.

“It’s nice to get back into the swing of things and know that our team is up there and we can do something with it,” Scott Thompson said. “Back when we won our last postseason championship we had a great team and we could hit. We’re showing what we can do right now.”

Eli Nellis is a sports writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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