BOVARD — With momentum on their side, the Bovard Bison finished their Indiana County League baseball championship series against Blairsville the same way they started it — with a blowout win.
After sweating out wins in Games 2 and 3, second-seeded Bovard again looked dominant, claiming its third straight league championship and sweeping top-seeded Blairsville with a 10-2 win in Game 4 of the best-of-seven championship series Monday.
The Bison, who entered the league in 2000, won their 10th consecutive championship series game over the past three years.
Bovard bested Amfire Mining in six games in 2011. Last year, the Bison swept Amfire Mining, out- scoring the Indies 37-4. Creekside was the last team to claim three straight titles in the ICL, winning in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Before that, West Lebanon won 11 straight titles between 1995 and 2005.
Bovard player-manager Mike Johnson, who’s played for the Bison for more than two decades, said he’s savored each of the team’s three titles equally.
“They all feel sweet,” Johnson said. “It feels good every year. I’m just happy to have these guys with me every year. It’s nice to keep winning with them, and they keep coming back, so it’s enjoyable.”
For the second consecutive season, Bovard pitcher Brandon Hassinger pitched six innings and earned a win in the decisive game of the championship series. Hassinger struck out three, walked two and allowed six hits. Last year, he fanned five, walked three and surrendered just two hits in Game 4 against Amfire Mining.
“He gives everyone problems because he can bring it sidearm,” Johnson said. “He throws it pretty hard and he changes speeds, and he’s been doing that for me for years. I hope he sticks around.”
Anthony Marazza walked and then scored on a Zack Martin base hit to give Bovard a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Steve Anderson and Martin each scored later in the inning on an error to make it a 3-0 game.
“That was huge,” Johnson said. “We got our morale up and got our team enthused and ready to win. It was just a good turning point. We got a couple runs for our pitcher, too.”
Blairsville starting pitcher Neal West walked Martin, Anthony Manley and Johnson to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the third. Steve Zerbini made West pay on the next at-bat, ripping a two-run single down the third-base line to stretch Bovard’s lead to 5-0.
Then, after West was replaced by Scott Harsh, Pat Kohl cracked an RBI single to make it 6-0. Marazza then hit a sacrifice fly, and Anderson followed with a two-run double to extend Bovard’s lead to 9-0.
Martin smacked a two-out RBI double to score Anderson and cap the rally, making it a 10-0 game.
“Neal gave up three runs there, one of which was earned. The other two they got on an error at shortstop, which should have got us out of the inning. It should have been a double-play ball,” Blairsville player-manager Joe Culler said. “But that’s kind of the way it went all series. They got the lucky hits or the good hits and we were unable to produce or make the plays.”
Jarred Pennavaria drilled a two-run single with the bases loaded in the top of the fourth to trim Bovard’s lead to 10-2. But later in the inning and with runners on first and second, Hassinger escaped the jam by baiting Jordan Truscott into grounding out.
Hassinger walked none and allowed one hit and no runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Reliever Alex Nagy cemented the win by serving up no hits and no runs in the seventh.
Martin went 2-for-3 and was named MVP of the championship series. He finished the series 7-for-16 with four RBIs and five runs scored.
“I don’t really try to do too much, but when I get an opportunity, I like to capitalize,” Martin said. “It’s just nice to come out and support the team. I’ve been on the team for four years and we’ve been a tight-knit group the entire time. We’re pretty much all friends on and off the field. It’s really a great team to play for.”
Kohl and Zerbini each singled twice to power Bovard, which racked up nine hits.
The Colts won their first regular season title in club history and punched their first ticket to the league championship series since 2003.
Culler was gracious in defeat, complimenting the Bison and Johnson for taking the proper measures to win their third straight league title. Culler also expressed optimism regarding his team’s future, despite the fact that they were outscored 28-7 in the championship series.
“To put a good positive spin on it, I’d like to look at our guys as a lot like these guys five or six years ago,” Culler said. “They were just coming out of high school (and) getting into the college ranks. But now a lot of Bovard’s players are finished playing college and they’re coaching, so hopefully our guys can progress into the same thing and we can get a similar thing going here.”