SOMERSET — Marion Center staff ace C.J. Stiles backed Somerset’s Ethan Keefer into a corner with the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Unfortunately for Stiles and Marion Center, Keefer coolly delivered with an 0-2 count.
With two outs and a runner on third, Keefer smacked a base hit up the middle to drive in the game-winning run, lifting Somerset to a 3-2 win over Marion Center in a first-round game of the Pennsylvania Senior American Legion Region 7 tournament Saturday at Somerset High School.
Marion Center (17-9), the Indiana County playoff champ, faces Unity in an elimination game today.
“We were talking about maybe just loading the bases up and then just hope for a force out, a strikeout or a groundout,” Marion Center manager Joe Bunyak said of the game’s last at-bat. “But he (Stiles) said he felt confident he could strike him out. He almost did, but you can’t stop that. There’s nothing you can do.”
Tommy Deermitt got things rolling in the bottom of the ninth inning for Somerset when he legged out a bunt single. Deermitt induced an errant throw from Stiles on the play and advanced to second base.
Deermitt moved up to third on a sacrifice bunt from Marcus Brant.
Stiles struck out the next batter, Brendon Boliser, with a breaking ball for the inning’s second out.
But with an 0-2 count, the following batter, Keefer, drove a Stiles fastball up the middle to score Deermitt for the game-winning run.
“He’s solid. There’s no doubt about it,” Somerset manager Bart Close said of Keefer. “When we were putting the team together this year, he was one of the first ones we went after, because we knew he was a good ball player. He’s a gamer (and) you could tell that tonight, not only at the plate, but on the mound.”
Marion Center got on the board first by plating two runs on two hits and two walks in the top of the second. Seth Goodlin singled, stole second, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt from Luke Popovich, and then scored on a wild pitch. Eric Adamson then made it 2-0 by walking and scoring later in the inning on a Matt Popovich base hit.
After the second, however, Keefer handcuffed Marion Center, allowing just two hits and no runs in the last seven innings.
Meanwhile, Marion Center pitcher Jared Selkirk surrendered just one run in his first five innings. However, after getting nailed in his throwing arm with a line drive in the sixth, Selkirk allowed three of the next four batters to reach base, including Eric Costea, who cracked an RBI double to make it a 2-1 game.
With the bases loaded and one out, Bunyak replaced the injured Selkirk with Stiles.
Stiles struck out the next batter, Dustin Coughenour, and then induced a fly out from Deermitt to escape the dilemma.
“We pitched and fielded well,” Bunyak said. “We just played too much at-em ball. I mean, we hit the ball hard. When we hit it, we hit it. We just couldn’t seem to find the holes and they were making nice plays.”
Keefer held Marion Center hitless between the fifth and eighth innings.
Luke Ruddock finally snapped Marion Center’s hitless drought with a one-out single in the top of the ninth. Tyler Doolin followed with a sacrifice bunt that moved Ruddock to second. But the next batter, Matt Popovich, struck out looking on a Reefer curveball to end in the inning.
Marion Center struck out just four times but mustered just five base runners after the second inning.
“I said the other night, ‘If we throw well, hit well and catch well, we’ll come out on top.’ And we did tonight,” Close said. “Marion Center’s a hell of a team. They didn’t get here for no reason.”
Losing pitcher Stiles struck out four and walked one in three innings of relief.
Ruddock led Marion Center by going 2-for-3 with a double.