CENTER TOWNSHIP — Strangely, the worst-case scenario didn’t materialize for I-Medical when it lost in blowout fashion Tuesday night to tournament front-runner East Hempfield.
After all, I-Medical manager Doug Pennington saved the arms of his top two pitchers, a move that will undoubtedly help the Punxsutawney-based entry in their consolation game today against Millcreek.
I-Medical became Hempfield East’s fourth straight victim in the Pennsylvania Youth American Legion Western Regional baseball tournament, falling 12-2 in a winners’ bracket game that was shortened to five innings due to the mercy rule at First Commonwealth Field.
I-Medical can punch its second straight ticket to the state tournament with a win over Millcreek at 10:30 a.m. today. Hempfield East will take on Westmoreland County runner-up Murrysville in the championship game at 1 p.m.
Both Hempfield East and Murrysville have already guaranteed spots in the state tournament.
The top three teams advance to the Pennsylvania Youth American Legion State Tournament, which begins Saturday at First Commonwealth Field.
“Hempfield’s a good team,” Pennington said. “I stuck around last night (Monday) and watched them and saw some really good things. I knew we were going to have our hands full, and I knew we’d have to hit. It kind of all boils down to hitting, and tonight we had two hits and didn’t get a hit until the fourth. We have to start hitting. That’s all there is to it.”
Hempfield East jumped on I-Medical starter Brandon Douthit early, scoring three runs in each of the first two innings to zoom to a 6-0 lead. Jake Hefner ripped a bases-loaded double with two outs in the top of the first to drive in Hempfield East’s first three runs.
An inning later, Hempfield East’s Scott Riley, Austin Butler and Cole Reese smacked successive base hits. Riley, Butler and Reese each scored later in the inning to make it 6-0.
“That was very important because the whole tournament we’ve been jumping on teams and holding leads,” Hempfield East manager Mike Gaffney said. “Our defense is very good, and our pitching is very good, and getting that cushion just put our kids in the right mind state. We knew at that point that all we had to do was hold on and we’d have to be beat twice tomorrow.”
Hempfield East tacked on three runs on two hits, two errors and two walks in the top of the fourth to nab a 9-0 lead.
Tyler Richardson notched I-Medical’s first hit of the game when he dropped a single into shallow left field in the bottom of the fourth off Hempfield East starting pitcher Jake Nesser. Nesser and Riley teamed up to toss a two-hitter. Nesser struck out one and walked one in four innings, and Riley struck out two and walked none in one inning of relief.
“Jake’s not overpowering, but he locates the ball well and throws a lot of ground balls,” Gaffney said. “He definitely proved that his style is effective tonight. I don’t think they hit the ball in the outfield until they got that bloop single in the fourth.”
The top two pitchers on I-Medical’s staff, Lance Pennington and Byers, have each thrown seven innings in the tournament. Pennington tossed a complete game in I-Medical’s 3-2 loss to Farmington on Sunday. Later that day, Byers fired a complete game in a win over West County.
“We’ve got some arms left and we tried to take care of them a little tonight because the game kind of got out of hand early,” Doug Pennington said. “We’ve got a bunch of young kids, and we’re not making excuses for ourselves, but win or lose, we’re getting these guys good experience for the future.”