BLAIRSVILLE — A day removed from subpar showings against the Saltsburg and Purchase Line baseball teams, Blairsville responded with a near-perfect performance Thursday at WyoTech Park.
The Bobcats gave freshman pitcher Ryan Shirley an early lead and then scored nine runs in the last two innings to rout Penns Manor, 11-1, in a Heritage Conference game that was shortened to five innings due to the mercy rule.
Defending District 6 Class AA champ Blairsville, which fell to Saltsburg, 9-3, before beating Purchase Line, 6-3, on Wednesday, improved to 8-2.
The Bobcats play at Northern Cambria on Wednesday, and Penns Manor (5-6) heads to Ligonier Valley today.
“We underachieved yesterday and we were disappointed in our effort for both games, but we had to get refocused and come out ready to play today,” Blairsville coach Mark Zerfoss said. “It took us a few innings to get things rolling, but once the kids starting putting some hits together they got that energy and they started having fun again. We just didn’t have any fun yesterday. Today we had fun and we scored a bunch of runs.”
With the Bobcats nursing a 2-1 lead, Anthony Faulk broke out of a brief funk at the ideal time, with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Faulk drilled Gavin Grimaldi’s pitch into right-center field for a double to score Ryan Shirley and Corey Ramsden, extending Blairsville’s lead to 4-1.
Cameron Livingston made it a 5-1 game next when he grounded out to second base to score Alex Parkhurst.
The next batter, Scott Thompson, ripped a base hit up the middle to plate Faulk and stretch the Bobcats’ lead to 6-1.
“There’s no doubt that we made some mistakes and they made us pay for them,” Penns Manor coach Skyler Eckenrode said. “We’ve got to be able to put those mistakes behind us and move on, and we just weren’t able to do that today.”
Blairsville enforced the mercy rule in the following inning by plating five runs on two hits, four walks and a hit batsman.
Faulk started the two-out rally with an RBI single up the middle that scored Ramsden to swell the Bobcats’ lead to six runs, 7-1. Thompson cracked a two-run single two batters later to score Faulk and Livingston, making it 9-1. Josh Daugherty then drew a bases-loaded walk to score Thompson before the next batter, Shirley, got hit by a pitch from reliever Zach Hnatko to score John Distefano and end the game.
“We were getting guys on early (but) we just couldn’t get those clutch hits, and then all of a sudden we come out and break it open in two innings,” Zerfoss said. “We always say that high school baseball is about momentum. We haven’t been able to get it lately, (but) today in those two innings we got the momentum and we just ran with it.”
Shirley, who first pitched regularly last season for Kovacik Insurance in Indiana County Youth Legion, tossed a five-hitter to earn the win. Shirley struck out two, walked none and threw just eight balls on the day.
“Kudos to Ryan … he threw a heck of a game out there,” Zerfoss said. “He does well with his control, and that’s the big thing. He makes teams put the ball in play, and teams know that, so they’re up there swinging at strikes and we’re getting a lot of first-pitch outs. As of right now he’s pretty much just learning the position, and he’s doing really well with it. He’s hitting his spots and he’s not putting many guys on base with walks.”
Shirley offered his thoughts on contributing to a junior- and senior-laden team that captured the school’s first district title last year by saying: “They went to states last year, and we want to get there again, so coming in as a freshman is a big step. The seniors and juniors were all on that team and they know how to get back, so they just lead by example and I follow.”
Thompson finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs to pace the Bobcats.
Grimaldi went 2-for-2 with a run to lead Penns Manor.