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PUNXSUTAWNEY â€” Leading just 3-2 entering the bottom half of the sixth inning, Punxsy's baseball team scored four insurance runs to push its lead to 7-2, and the Chucks went on to beat the Bradford Owls by that score Monday in the season opener at Rich Kuntz Memorial Field in Punxsutawney.
"The first one's always good," Punxsy head coach Mike Dickey said. "It certainly wasn't pretty, but we don't give back wins, that's for sure."
Dickey said that despite a few mistakes on the base paths and defensively, one area stood out as a glaring strength for the Chucks: Pitching.
Between two pitchers â€” starter Jamie Bush and Cory Geer, who came on in relief â€”Â Punxsy threw a one-hitter, walked just three, struck out nine and allowed just two runs over seven innings.
Bush pitched 3 2/3-innings, allowing no hits and two runs, striking out four and walking two. He also hit a batter with a pitch.
Geer threw the remaining 3 1/3-innings, allowed one hit, walked one and struck out five.
"We have some things we need to clean up, but the pitching was outstanding," Dickey said. "Both guys, Jamie and Cory, were very sharp for this early in the year, so that's very encouraging."
As is commonly the case early in the season, there were some areas where Dickey felt his team needs to continue to improve.
"We had some base running snafus and missed some signals," he said. "Those are things that need cleaned up, but we'll keep working on that. The bats were a bit slow coming around, too. It took us a while to get rolling there, but it was good to see us hit the ball in the sixth."
Punxsy jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after Bush started things for the Chucks about as efficiently as he could â€” striking out the side looking in the away half of the frame.
"I'm sure that boosted his confidence," Dickey said of Bush's fast start. "It's always good to know you're feeling it and you're hitting your spots. He obviously built off of that and had a really good performance."
Dane Baker led off the game with a walk and stole second before No. 2 hitter Ryan Sloniger walked behind him.
Ty Zimmerman walked, as well, but was picked off of first base after Baker scored on a wild pitch.
Sloniger also scored on a passed ball, giving the Chucks a pair of runs before they even notched their first hit.
From there, Bradford starting pitcher Nunzio Cavallero settled in, keeping the Chucks offense off the board for the next two innings.
The Owls scored one run in the third and one in the fourth to even the score, but Punxsy regained the lead when a pickoff attempt was thrown into left field, and Sloniger scored his second run of the game, giving the Chucks the lead for good.
After taking over on the mound, Geer came out to lead off the sixth inning and helped his own cause by taking a walk.
Taylor Phillips kept things rolling for Punxsy with a sacrifice bunt, and when no one was manning third after the bunt, Geer advanced the extra 90 feet, beating a diving Bradford player to the bag.
The next four Punxsy batters ripped hard line drives for hits, driving in one run apiece and giving Punxsy four insurance runs.
Baker started the streak with an RBI double, and Sloniger followed by driving Baker in on a triple that caught chalk down the first base line.
Zimmerman ripped an RBI double to left-center field, and he scored on a sharply hit single by Garrett Zimmerman.
Geer kept Bradford off the board in the seventh inning, and the game was Punxsy's.
Punxsy's offense for the day was led by Baker, who had two hits and was on base three times. Sloniger was 1-for-1 with three walks and two runs.
Geer, Michael Klingensmith, Sloniger and Dakota Thomas each reached base in all of their plate appearances.
The Chucks have little time to work on any areas they saw which needed improvement, as they will head to Kittanning â€” a fairly unfamiliar opponent â€” this afternoon for their second game of the season.
"I know nothing about them really," Dickey said. "I just know we played them last year, and we won that game. Even though we beat them, though, we're a different team, and so are they. They were pretty athletic, so we'll have our work cut out for us."
Dickey was pleased with his pitchers' performances Monday, and he noted that he looks forward to seeing the depth and consistency continue.
"We had three walks and nine strikeouts tonight," he said. "Our goal is three walks or less, and it's very easy to make pitching moves when you know the guy you're putting in is going to throw strikes, too."
While the offense will hope to carry over its late momentum from the Bradford game this afternoon in Kittanning, Dickey said momentum is a funny thing in baseball.
"The old adage in baseball is: Your momentum is only as good as your next day's starting pitcher," he said. "Luke Janocha will start for us (today). So, if Luke's good, I guess the momentum will carry over."
First pitch in Kittanning is scheduled for 4 p.m., and there will be no junior varsity contest.View more articles in: