BLAIRSVILLE — Reed Ratkus made no qualms about it. No team in Indiana County Senior Legion compares to Kovacik Insurance at the moment. Kovacik has four straight titles to prove it.
“It means we’re the best around in Indiana County,” Ratkus said with a wide smile.
Hard to argue with that.
Behind Ratkus’ complete-game three-hit shutout, Kovacik Insurance sealed its fourth straight regular-season league title Monday with a 1-0 win over Young Township in a one-game playoff to determine the champion.
Ratkus gave up three hits — including a bunt single when his defense failed to cover first base in the third inning — and two walks to shut down the Renegades, who were riding high after shredding Kovacik 12-2 on Saturday to force Monday’s playoff.
Cam Livingston scored Kovacik’s lone run on a timely suicide squeeze in the fourth inning.
Livingston singled to lead off the inning, and the ball took a bad hop as Young Township right fielder Devin Fairman charged the ball. Livingston advanced to third, and Andrew Schultz came up big two batters later.
“I knew that it still had some good velocity on it, so I knew it was going to roll somewhere,” Livingston said. “I knew Reed was a good pitcher, so I figured all we needed this whole game was just one run.”
Kovacik Insurance coach Bob Thompson wasn’t so quite so sure.
“I thought we were going to need more than that,” Bob Thompson said. “Reed hit a couple guys and he was missing a little bit, but when he needed to come back and get outs, he pitched to contact and they were hit to somebody. I don’t think they had a lot of strikeouts. Most of the time, the ball was hit in a position where we could make a nice play on it.”
It was the second time he called for the suicide squeeze this season, Bob Thompson said, and Schultz has executed it to perfection both times.
“He’s a good bunter. He’s a good kid. He’ll do whatever I ask him to do,” Thompson said. “I know he’s going to give it his best effort every time he’s out there. He’s the kind of kid you want on your team all day.”
“A bad hop and a squeeze, that’s as close as it gets, you know,” Young Township coach Barry Thomas said. “How do you stop that? … We were sort of expecting the squeeze, but it was a perfect bunt.”
With the way Young Township starter Ian Satler was mowing down batters — he finished with 12 strikeouts — Livingston knew he had to score after getting to third with no outs.
“He’s a dominant pitcher, so I knew we had to do anything to score,” Livingston said. “Once we called for the squeeze, I knew I had to score, even if (Schultz) missed (the bunt). It’s a risky move, but it always works for us. I knew he would. It was the perfect pitch, too.”
When the run scored, Ratkus was confident he could make the lead stand up.
“It was the best game I threw all year, definitely,” Ratkus said. “I knew it was enough. I was pitching great. Sixth inning got a little shaky, but after that, I knew that was it.”
“Two of the best games I’ve ever seen him pitch in his life, he threw very few pitches, guys were putting bats on the ball and they were hitting them to people,” Thompson said. “He was pitching to contact and if he needed to, he could get a strikeout. He’s effective if he gets that curve going, keep it down, let them hit the ball to somebody.”
Livingston went 2-for-3 to account for two of Kovacik’s three hits.
Ratkus ran into trouble in the third and sixth innings, allowing the first two batters to reach base in each inning, but he wriggled his way out of trouble both times.
In the third, Young Township’s Jarrett Geiger bunted to begin the inning and reached on an error, and Fairman reached on a bunt single when Kovacik Insurance failed to cover first base on his bunt attempt.
Ratkus got a fielder’s choice and two flyouts to end the threat.
In the sixth, he hit Tanner and Mitch Yard to start the inning and put runners on first and second with no outs. But Tanner Yard got caught too far off second base, and he was thrown out in a rundown for the first out, and Ratkus got two more flyouts to end that threat.
“You’ve just got to keep throwing strikes,” Ratkus said.
Young Township’s win Saturday in the regular-season finale left both teams 15-5 needing a one-game playoff to decide the regular-season champion and determine who earns the automatic berth in the Western Regional tournament as the league champion.
Kovacik got the automatic bid and can relax heading into the league playoffs this week, knowing that they’ve already earned a regional bid. Oh, and four straight trophies to go with it.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” Livingston said. “I think our Senior Legion team was canceled for a couple years, so once we got it back, we’ve just kept winning.”
Ratkus, Scott Thompson, John Distefano and Anthony Faulk have been regulars on all four title-winning teams.
“Those four guys were a part of that,” Bob Thompson said.
The league playoffs get under way Wednesday with the best-of-three semifinal series. Top-seeded Kovacik Insurance plays host to Punxsutawney, and Young Township welcomes Indiana Legion in the opening games, and Game 2s will be played Thursday.
[PHOTO: Kovacik Insurance players gathered around the trophy after winning the legion title. (Michael Walker/Gazette photo)]