Chucks' pitching bankrupts Millionaires

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Despite looming rain clouds, Punxsy hosted the Williamsport Millionaires Saturday afternoon, and with a strong combined shutout by starting pitcher Dane Baker and relief pitcher Cory Geer, the Chucks earned a 6-0 victory to close out a successful week against AAAA schools.

"It's just been up and down the staff," Punxsy head coach Mike Dickey said of his team's pitching depth this season. "Anybody we turn to is coming in and pitching lights out, and as I said all week, that's been the key to getting us to where we are right now and to finishing an outstanding week against three AAAA schools 3-0. We couldn't have done it without this staff, obviously. It was just a great week of baseball all around."

Punxsy's perfect week started with a 1-0 pitchers' duel victory over Altoona Monday and continued Wednesday with a come-from-behind 7-4 victory over the DuBois Beavers Wednesday. Saturday's victory over the Millionaires was simply icing on the cake.

"At the beginning of the week, I said that we had a tough week, and if we could find a way to go 2-1, we had a good week," Dickey said. "So to finish it off with a win is outstanding. Top to bottom, the whole team, at some point this week, stepped up. Base running, clutch hitting and pitching have all been outstanding for us."

Baker started the game by shutting down Williamsport in the top of the first, and Punxsy wasted no time taking the lead in the bottom half.

Ty Zimmerman started it off with a single up the middle, and during the next at-bat, cleanup hitter Garrett Zimmerman reached base on an error after a sharply hit ball to the third baseman.

The ball caromed off the Williamsport third baseman's glove, and the shortstop tried to throw Zimmerman out at first. When his throw skipped to the fence, Ty Zimmerman advanced to third.

Jamie Bush gave the Chucks the lead with a seeing-eye RBI single just out of the shortstop's reach up the middle.

Baker faced just one more than the minimum in the top of the second, as Joe Cassidy doubled on a well-struck hit to left that took a nasty hop over the head of left fielder Taylor Phillips with two outs.

But Baker struck out Jeff Bartholomew for his second strikeout of the inning to retire the side.

With a bit of help from the Millionaire's starting pitcher, Sadiq Burkholder, the Chucks added two runs to their lead in the bottom of the frame.

Alex Bevak led off the inning with a walk, and he was moved to second on a bunt by Michael Klingensmith. When Williamsport first baseman Ryan Hostrander tried to catch Bevak rounding second base, his throw ended up in left field, and Bevak ended up on third base.

Baker helped his own cause by driving in Bevak on a ground out to the first baseman, which ended up being a very close play thanks to Baker's speed.

Punxsy benefited from a pair of walks — the first to leadoff hitter Phillips and the second to Ryan Sloniger after Phillips stole second base — and Ty Zimmerman came through again with an RBI single to left to give the Chucks a 3-1 lead.

The next inning-and-a-half saw few base runners and no scoring, but Punxsy tacked on another pair of insurance runs in the fourth inning to give itself some breathing room.

Phillips started the rally with another walk — his second of three on the afternoon. After Sloniger grounded into a fielder's choice, Zimmerman picked up his third hit of the day with a book rule double to right-center field that would have been at least an RBI triple if it hadn't bounced over the fence, as Zimmerman was rounding second when it skipped over.

Williamsport's second pitcher of the day, Aaron Weber, walked Garrett Zimmerman to load the bases to end his day, and Bush came through in the clutch again, picking up his second and third RBIs with a single between the shortstop and third baseman off the Millionaires' new relief pitcher, Kyle Hoover.

After Bush's single, Hoover retired Geer and Bevak to retire the side and stop the bleeding, but the damage was done and the Chucks led 5-0 after four.

Williamsport's greatest threat came in the top of the fifth inning when No. 9 hitter Ian Miller picked up his second single of the day to lead off the inning.

Baker struck out Sisto Campana and forced No. 2 hitter Jeremy Rall to fly out to center, but a two-out double to deep left-center field put a pair of runners in scoring position for Hoover.

Hoover smashed a frozen rope down the first-base line, but first baseman Bush fielded his position well, scooping a one-hopper and taking it to first himself to retire the side and preserve the shutout.

Punxsy added one final run in the bottom of the fifth. Klingensmith led off the frame with a walk, and he moved to second on Phillips' third walk of the day.

Ty Zimmerman plated Klingensmith with an RBI single, and the Chucks led 6-0.

After five shutout innings — during which he allowed just six hits and struck out five — Baker was replaced by Geer, and his remarkable curve ball entered the game in relief.

Geer struck out the side in the sixth, and after the Chucks were retired in order, he completed his two-inning, no-hit appearance by retiring the Millionaires on three consecutive ground outs to lock up the shutout.

Led by Ty Zimmerman's 4-for-4, two-RBI performance and Bush's 3-for-4, three-RBI outing, Punxsy bats showed signs of life all day coming off a late-game rally Wednesday against DuBois. But Dickey said after the game that he was pleased some of his hitters who didn't appear in the hit column of the stat sheet did their jobs, as well.

"The bats are starting to come around, and we're starting to display some situational hitting and starting to move runners when we need to. That was big today," he said. "We got some guys in scoring position so we could bring them in with a ground ball. That was good to see."

While the status of Punxsy's next game — this afternoon in Brookville — is still up in the air with poor weather conditions pending, Dickey said if the game is on, his hope is that his team continues to perform the way it did over the past week.

"We're just looking to keep playing winning baseball," he said. "If we keep pitching like we have been, we'll be in every game. So, that's what we are looking for: Continuing the pitching and continuing to make strides in situational hitting. We like the direction we're headed."