MARION CENTER — With virtually his entire rotation on the mend due to postseason wear, Marion Center manager Joe Bunyak had no choice but to put his team’s fate in the hands of worn-out staff ace C.J. Stiles.
Luckily for Bunyak, the right-handed Stiles, who tossed a four-hitter in Thursday’s win over Punxsutawney, mustered up more than enough grit and just enough arm strength to deliver another gem. Stiles gave up just two hits and no runs through the first six innings, handcuffing Young Township while his teammates capitalized on nine hits and five errors to roll to a 9-2 win in the third and decisive game of the Indiana County Senior Legion baseball championship series Monday.
With the win, Marion Center (17-8), the No. 3 seed in the county playoffs, will join regular-season champ Kovacik Insurance in the Pennsylvania Senior American Legion Region 7 tournament for the second straight season.
The tournament begins Saturday in Somerset. Young Township, the No. 4 seed in the county playoffs which swept top-seeded Kovacik Insurance in the semifinals, concluded its season with a record of 16-9.
“C.J. was pitching on three days’ rest, and I was hoping he could go because I was out. I used my fifth and sixth guys down in YT yesterday,” Bunyak said.
“My arm was actually feeling fine. I was surprised,” Stiles said. “The warm weather helps a lot with your arm. It keeps you loose.”
Marion Center gave Stiles some breathing room early by jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Hunter Stiteler and Adam Tomayko each walked and then scored on errors. Stiles reached base on an error, stole second and scored on an error.
“You can’t come to a championship game and have five or six errors and expect to win,” Young Township manager Barry Thomas said. “That was the story of the game. Right off the bat they got three runs on no hits. That set the tone.”
Young Township ace Ian Satler, who tossed a five-hitter in a win over Kovacik Insurance on Friday, also struggled with fatigue in the heat. He struck out five, walked one and allowed three hits in four innings.
Unfortunately, Satler ran into issues when he eclipsed the 50-pitch mark in the bottom of the second.
In the bottom of the third, Satler served up an RBI double to Stiles and an RBI single to Seth Goodlin on back-to-back at-bats to allow Marion Center to stretch its lead to 5-0.
Two innings later, Marion Center plated four runs on five hits, two errors and a walk on reliever Brandon Neal to stretch its lead to 9-0.
“That was big,” Bunyak said. “It was a fluke in the first (inning). I was like, ‘Holy cow. I’ve never seen them make so many errors.’ We got lucky there, but the other one, we came in and said, ‘We’ve got to start hitting the ball.’ And we hit the ball. That’s all it takes.”
The Renegades notched three of their five hits and each of their two runs in the seventh off Stiles. Stiles went 2-for-3 with a triple and three runs scored. He also struck out six and walked two.
“The heat kind of got to me today. I didn’t feel like I was throwing my best at all or anything,” Stiles said. “I was just putting the ball in the strike zone because I knew our defense would get anything that was hit to them. In the playoffs, it seems like our defense has picked it up a lot. … It’s good to be peaking at the end of the season instead of early in the season.”
Astoundingly, Marion Center played 13 games in the last 14 days. Young Township played 12 in the last 15.
“They were dragging,” Bunyak said. “But I’ll tell you what, that’s one thing I believe that the best offense is a good defense, and we were pretty solid. There are a couple players that haven’t been showing up, but other than that, the guys I have out there, they give me 110 percent.”
Seth Goodlin and Stiteler each finished 2-for-3 for Marion Center.