YOUTH LEGION BASEBALL: I-Medical loses, won't play in state tournament
CENTER TOWNSHIP — The loss of eight 15-year-olds from last year’s team didn’t deter I-Medical manager Doug Pennington from challenging his young squad to earn a second straight trip to the Pennsylvania Youth American Legion State Tournament.
With just one 15-year-old, and without one of his most productive players from the regular season, John Matthews, Pennington still put the Punxsutawney-based team in good position to reach its improbable goal.
I-Medical threat- ened Millcreek in the bottom of the sixth but couldn’t get a timely hit, ultimately falling to the Northwest League champ, 4-1, in the third-place game of the Pennsylvania Youth American Legion Western Regional baseball tournament Wednesday at First Commonwealth Field.
I-Medical (24-6), the Indiana County champ and returning regional runner-up, finished the tournament with a 2-3 record.
East Hempfield defeated Murrysville, 8-4, in the championship game later in the day.
The top three teams advance to the state tournament, which begins Saturday at First Commonwealth Field.
“Going into the season, I don’t think a whole lot of people gave us a chance to do anything,” a satisfied Pennington said. “We proved a lot of people wrong, especially in the league. We went through the regular season 18-2. We were regular-season champs (and) league champs and then we ended up in fourth place here — one place shy of going to states. I’m extremely proud of those guys. They battled hard. We just didn’t come out on the winning end today.”
Braden Magee reached base on an error and then scored on an RBI double from Noah Warren to put Millcreek on the board first in the top of the first inning. Landon Oddono then ripped an RBI single to score Jack Baird, making it 2-0.
Neither team mustered any offense after the first until Millcreek rallied to score two runs on three hits in the top of the sixth. Oddono hit an RBI double to score Jake Sniegocki, and Mike Ruf followed with an RBI double that scored Oddono, and Millcreek stretched its lead to 4-0.
“That was very good because if you let a team hang around, they’re going to start thinking they can beat you,” first-year Millcreek manager Mike Hayes said.
Dakota Byers sparked I-Medical’s lone scoring rally when he belted a one-out single up the middle in the bottom of the sixth. The next batter, Brandon Douthit, clubbed a double into the left-center field gap to score Byers, trimming Millcreek’s lead to 4-1.
But later in the inning and with two outs and runners on second and third, Millcreek reliever Jake King induced Brandon Matthews to line into a 4-3 double play to end the rally.
“It was a blown opportunity, but 13-year-olds are going to make mistakes,” Pennington said. “There’s a little bit of pressure there and they’re just kids. They know the situation and they know they’re down by three runs, and they want to do their best to help their team win. He (Tyler Richardson) just got out there a little too far and got doubled off.”
Isaac Stouffer gave I-Medical a flicker of hope by singling with one out in the top of the seventh. However, King struck out John Serian and then induced a groundout from Ryan Jones to end the game.
“Jake King came in and did a great job of throwing strikes. He’s not going to overpower anybody, but he is going to load the zone up with strikes,” Hayes said. “I think at this level, the secret to this game is obviously to throw strikes and to make plays behind him, and that’s what we did.”
Douthit went 2-for-3 to pace I-Medical.
Stouffer, one of a trio of I-Medical 13-year-olds who pitched at regionals, walked two and allowed nine hits in a complete-game effort.
Pennington praised the efforts of Stouffer and his fellow 13-year-olds by saying: “I can’t say enough about those younger guys. My 13-year-olds stepped up right off the bat, and then they really came through down the stretch. They (Stouffer, Richardson and Matthews) pitched fabulous. I can’t say enough about them.”