HS BASEBALL: Bobcats overtake Rams for first place in Heritage Conference
BLAIRSVILLE — The Blairsville Bobcats have fed off being an underdog.
Now they’re going to need a different type of motivation.
Blairsville took sole possession of first place in the Heritage Conference with its second win over Ligonier Valley in eight days, beating the Rams, 7-3, on Monday afternoon at WyoTech Park.
“It was a pretty good upset,” Blairsville shortstop John Distefano said after the game — despite the Bobcats (8-1 overall and Heritage Conference) having pulled ahead of Ligonier Valley (10-3, 8-2), which had been undefeated in Heritage Conference play until facing Blairsville a week ago Monday.
“There were some statements made that it wasn’t (Ligonier Valley’s) best game and everything, and that left a bitter taste in our kids’ mouths,” Blairsville coach Mark Zerfoss said of the teams’ previous meeting, an 8-2 Bobcats victory on April 23.
“They felt like they weren’t getting any respect. … When we went over before the game, a lot of kids had that taste in their mouth. They said, ‘Hey, we’re not getting much respect here. Let’s go out and prove a point,’ and they did.”
Blairsville cracked 11 hits against Ligonier Valley left-handers Nick Payne and Billy Elliott. Meanwhile, Blairsville right-hander Reed Ratkus didn’t allow an earned run in a complete-game win.
“Hats off to Blairsville,” Ligonier Valley coach John Jones said. “Reed pitched a nice game, and they got some clutch two-out hitting. They drove in runs when we didn’t. We had a fair amount of baserunners and chances, and we just didn’t drive runs in when we needed to. A lot of that is credit to Mr. Ratkus, who pitched a great game.”
Ratkus struck out two and walked three but stranded 11 runners after being dealt a difficult hand with six errors.
The Bobcats took advantage of their opportunities, scoring in all but one inning. Distefano went 3-for-3 with a double and two runs scored. Bobby Thompson and Colton McMillan each went 2-for-3.
Blairsville scored two runs off Payne in two innings, then continued the attack against Elliott, one of the Rams’ top pitchers and the starter in the teams’ previous meeting.
“Everybody was really on him and wanted to hit him, and we stayed in on his curveball,” Distefano said.
“We were on the ball,” Zerfoss said. “We weren’t necessarily hitting everything late, either — a lot of up-the-middle hits.
“We earned the runs, and I think that’s the most satisfactory part of this win, the fact that no one can say that they gave it to us. I think we showed that, at least for today, we were the better team. That’s what their goal was, to show them that we’re just as good and we can play with you.”
Blairsville hasn’t lost since its season opener. Still, it has almost as many games remaining, seven, as it has played to this point. The Bobcats play at Saltsburg this afternoon.
“As great as this win is — I’m so happy, I probably won’t even sleep tonight — but it won’t be worth hardly anything if we go into tomorrow’s game and lose,” Zerfoss said. “After we enjoy tonight, we have to rebound, get focused again and come ready to play tomorrow. We just can’t have any letdowns if we want the Heritage Conference.”
“Nothing changes,” Jones said of the conference race. “That’s still our goal. We put ourselves in a pretty good bind. We’ve gotten behind the eight-ball now, but the pressure’s on Blairsville. They’ve got to win out, because that’s what we plan on doing.”