YOUTH LEGION CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: Kovacik wins title, ups record to 22-0
PUNXSUTAWNEY — In a game in which unbeaten Kovacik Insurance looked every bit as dominant as advertised, the Giants overcame a rocky start to etch their names in the Youth Legion record books for the second time this month.
Sixteen days after becoming the first Indiana County Youth Legion team in 24 years to go undefeated in the regular season, Kovacik Insurance outhit host I-Medical 11-4 to coast to a 17-3 win in the second and final game of the best-of-three championship series Wednesday. The Giants improved to 22-0 and became the first team since Elderton in 1986 to finish the regular season and the county playoffs unbeaten.
The game was shortened to six innings due to the mercy rule.
Kovacik Insurance and I-Medical (16-6), the county champ in 2012 and 2013, each qualified for the Western Regional tournament, which will begin on July 25 in Punxsutawney.
“I’m very proud of them,” said Kovacik Insurance coach Dan Shirley. “This team’s special because they all play together. We don’t have one kid who thinks he’s better than the team. They play for each other, they pick each other up, and most times, they just act like the score is 0-0. That’s why we’re here right now.”
Top-seeded Kovacik Insurance outhit second-seeded I-Medical 18-9 and outscored them 21-4 in the series. The Giants outscored their opponents 50-9 in four playoff games.
“It’s great,” said Kovacik Insurance cleanup hitter Omar Ward, who finished 4-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs.
“I’ve never been a part of an undefeated team for any sport, and to do it in baseball is just great because you never see undefeated baseball teams anywhere. … It’s a great stepping stone, and it’s awesome for us because we’ve been playing together since we were 4 years old.”
Brandon McGee and Tyler Richardson each scored on an error with two outs in the bottom of the second inning to make it a 3-1 game, giving I-Medical its only lead of the series.
The Giants answered and took the lead for good in the following inning, scoring four runs on two walks and two hits to take a 5-3 lead. Kullen Gardner capped the rally with a two-run single to left field that plated Bubba Seitz and Dakota Sunday.
Kovacik Insurance scored two runs on two hits, two stolen bases and an error in the next inning to stretch its lead to four runs, 7-3. Ward highlighted the rally with an RBI single.
“We don’t really have a hole in our lineup, and the top of our order produces a lot of runs,” said Shirley. “I’m not sure who won the batting title between Ryan (Shirley) and Omar, but they’re both in the mid-400s. We got key hits from top to bottom all year.”
The Giants banged out three hits and drew nine walks — seven with the bases loaded — to plate 10 runs in the sixth and extend its lead to14 runs, 17-3.
Sunday pitched a four-hitter to earn the win. Sunday, who struck out five, walked two and allowed one earned run and no extra-base hits, also singled, scored two runs and drove in three runs.
Shirley tweaked his starting pitching rotation to appease Sunday, who feels more comfortable throwing from the higher mound at Rich Kuntz Memorial Field than he does pitching at WyoTech Park. Kovacik Insurance ace Ryan Shirley was slated to pitch but instead played first base in case the series went back to Blairsville for a third game.
“I had butterflies, but after the first inning, I calmed down,” Sunday said. “I knew all I had to do was throw strikes and let my defense make plays behind me. They made it easy.”
First-year I-Medical coach Joe DiPietro offered his conclusion on what makes Kovacik Insurance such a difficult team to beat.
“They have good athleticism, they capitalize on mistakes, and they have good fundamentals,” said DiPietro. “They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. They don’t make many mistakes, but when they do, they don’t let it get them down, and they really just execute well.”
Despite the fact that his team has handled I-Medical in each of its four meetings this year, Shirley said the Punxsutawney-based squad represents the one team he wants to avoid at the Western Regional tournament.
“They’re a very good team,” Shirley said. “They’re very well-coached and they’ve got a lot of talent on that team. For some reason, we’ve just had their number so far this year. Hopefully we don’t see them next weekend because they’re definitely due to get us one time and they are very good.”
Bubba Seitz went 2-for-4 with four runs scored and three RBIs for the Giants. Gardner went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, Rick Shirley singled twice and drove in two runs, and Ryan Shirley scored four runs.
Lucas Ambler went 2-for-3 to pace I-Medical.