SOMERSET — Seemingly entrenched in a pitchers’ duel, Kovacik Insurance sent the message to the rest of the tournament field that its potent lineup can change a game in an instant.
The team from Blairsville erased an early two-run deficit and plated 12 of the game’s final 16 runs, including seven in the fifth inning, to roll to a 12-6 win over Bedford in a first-round game of the Pennsylvania Senior American Legion Region 7 tournament Saturday at Somerset High School.
Kovacik Insurance (18-5) locks horns with Mifflin County today in a winners’ bracket game.
“I think anytime you have a decent lefty he’s going to be hard for us to hit,” Kovacik Insurance manager Robert Thompson said of Bedford staff ace Kyle Droz. “There’s a couple good ones in our league, Delbert Brown to name one of them, but we don’t see too many good lefties. You just got to get used to them and you got to get up there. We finally got it our third time around. I think John Distefano, Andrew Iezzi and Lucas Palmer were the key to us winning this game today. They put a bunch of those runs up for us.”
Kovacik Insurance trailed 2-0 before scoring seven runs on five hits, two walks and two errors in the top of the fifth. Reed Ratkus ignited the rally with a two-run single. Bobby Thompson hit an RBI single that scored Palmer, and Scott Thompson ripped a two-run double that plated Ratkus and Bobby Thompson.
Bedford manager Kelbi Berg pulled Droz after he served up back-to-back singles to Bobby Gaston and Distefano in the inning. Dylan Downs got Bedford out of the jam by inducing a groundout from Palmer.
“Kyle’s very composed. It’s hard to get to him, no matter what the situation is,” Berg said. “They just did a great job of putting the bat on the ball in some 0-2 and 1-2 counts, and that really affected him, I believe.
“His mentality stayed the same. We just didn’t make the plays behind him that we needed to.”
Kovacik Insurance, which amassed 12 hits, plated two runs on two hits in the sixth and then scored a run on three hits in the seventh to stretch its lead to 10-2.
In the meantime, Kovacik Insurance starting pitcher Gaston allowed just four hits and two runs in the first six innings.
But Bedford scored four runs on four hits and a walk on Gaston in the seventh, a rally that prompted Robert Thompson to replace his starter with Ratkus.
Ratkus delivered with poise, striking out two, walking two and allowing one hit and no runs in the last 2 1-3 innings to cement the win.
Overpowering at times, Gaston fanned nine and walked three to notch the win.
“I don’t mind pitching in close games,” Gaston said. “But I don’t care who you are, it feels 10 times better when you have an eight-run lead to play with. You can just relax and throw your stuff and not really care if you walk a couple guys.”
Iezzi paced Kovacik Insurance by going 3-for-3 with a double. Adam Magalich singled twice and drove in a run, Scott Thompson and Distefano each drove in two runs, and Ratkus singled twice.
“This win was huge,” Robert Thompson said. “I know Mifflin County’s going to be really tough tomorrow, and they beat a good team in Latrobe. We used two of our best pitchers today so we’re just going to have to see. It was definitely huge, though, to beat a team like Bedford and jump out in the winner’s bracket.”