CENTER TOWNSHIP — Short on fresh arms, I-Medical manager Doug Pennington turned to a pair of unseasoned pitchers to guide his team in a rematch of the last two Indiana County championship series against S.W. Jack.
Fortunately for Pennington, 13-year-olds Tyler Richardson and Brandon Matthews whole-heartedly welcomed the idea of pitching with their team’s season on the line.
Richardson allowed just three runs in six innings, while Matthews got out of a precarious situation in the seventh, and the duo steered I-Medical, which capitalized on seven hits and 11 walks, to an 8-6 win over S.W. Jack in an elimination game of the Pennsylvania Youth American Legion Western Regional baseball tournament Monday at First Commonwealth Field.
The Black Sox, the defending regional champ who were playing in their third straight regional tournament, concluded their season with a 19-9 record.
Two-time defending Indiana County champ I-Medical will attempt to punch its second straight trip to the state tournament with a win over Hempfield East at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
In today’s other game, Northwest league champ Millcreek takes on Westmoreland County champ Murrysville at 5 p.m. today.
The top three teams advance to the Pennsylvania Youth American Legion State Tournament, which begins Saturday at First Commonwealth Field.
“Tyler just did a fabulous job on the mound,” Pennington said. “I can’t say enough about the way he pitched. He’s 13 years old, and I don’t want to say he’s invincible, but the kid doesn’t know what the word pressure is. Brandon Matthews is the same way. He’s 13 years old and didn’t get much mound time this year. He came in and gave up a few hits and a few runs, but it was a gutsy performance on his part, too. I can’t say enough about both of them. They pitched really well for me today.”
The Black Sox amassed four of their nine hits in the top of the second inning. S.W. Jack used RBI singles from Cole Shaffer and Tanner Yard and a bases-loaded walk from Jake Kelly to jump out to a 3-0 lead.
Richardson ultimately escaped a bases-loaded scenario later in the second by striking out Bobby Bell.
I-Medical responded in the bottom of the second, scoring three runs on six walks to tie the game, 3-3. Ryan Jones, Lance Pennington and Dakota Byers drew successive bases-loaded walks in the inning.
An inning later, Matthews scored on an infield single from Jones to give I-Medical a 4-3 lead.
“We struggled like that on and off all year,” S.W. Jack manager Mitch Pacconi said of his pitching staff’s control issues. “You do that, 10 walks or so, you’re not going to beat anybody, especially in the regionals. The umpiring hurt, too. We weren’t getting any calls. That didn’t help the cause, but that’s part of the game.”
I-Medical tacked on two runs on two walks, a hit, an error and a hit batsman in the bottom of the fifth to stretch its lead to 6-3.
I-Medical added insurance runs an inning later, plating two runs on two errors, a hit and a walk to extend the lead to 8-3.
The resilient Black Sox, however, refused to go quietly and rallied to score three runs on Matthews in the top of the seventh to trim I-Medical’s lead to 8-6.
But with runners on second and third and two outs, Matthews induced Shaffer to ground out to third baseman Isaac Stouffer on the first pitch of the count to end the game.
“I told him to take a pitch and he swung, but that’s the way it goes, I guess,” Pacconi said. “We didn’t quit, though. We had a shot there with another hit or two, but it didn’t happen.”
Richardson struck out five and walked four to notch the win.
Byers singled and drove in a pair of runs to lead I-Medical.
Kelly singled twice and drove in two runs for S.W. Jack. Zach Schultz finished 2-for-3.
Pacconi and Doug Pennington, who have watched their teams square off on several occasions in the postseason in the last two years, including in last year’s regional title game, each sounded off on the importance of the rivalry that’s spawned between the two teams.
“It is a nice rivalry,” Pacconi said. “They’ve been playing great lately. I don’t think they made any errors tonight. They made all the plays and didn’t give us anything, but we’ll be back.”
“Last year we both made it to states and we went down there and they knocked us out in an exciting elimination game. I got to say it was a little bit pleasing to knock them out,” Pennington said. “I said to Mitch when I walked in, ‘Oh, not you again.’ But it’s definitely a good time when we get together. Pitching just didn’t carry them very far today.”