It's good to be king: Punxsy LLBB keeps rolling

DUBOIS — This year's 11- and 12-year-old baseball All-Star team returns 11 players from the squad that lost its first game and battled back to win the 10- and 11-year-old District X title last year, and Monday night in DuBois, the Punxsy team showed it learned its lesson last year — that it was difficult to battle back out of the losers' bracket.

This season — with a 9-0 victory over DuBois Monday — Punxsy earned the king seed in the D-X South tournament, a home game Saturday with an opportunity to close out the tournament and a few days of valuable rest for pitchers' arms and players' ailing bodies.

With the Fourth of July holiday approaching, Punxsy manager Brad Gigliotti promised his players one day of rest, but he also promised after the game that the team would be hard at work trying to defend its reputation and earn a District X title to call its own this year.

"Last year, we lost our first game and had to battle the whole way back through," he said. "That's not the case this year, but we'll go hard tomorrow, take a day off, and then go hard Thursday and Friday to keep doing exactly what we're doing. When you play like these guys are playing, there's not much to complain about. So, we just need to keep them playing that way."

For Punxsy, it was a solid performance in all facets of the game.

Starting pitcher Brandon Matthews threw 5.1 innings of two-hit shutout baseball, and Sammy Gigliotti came on in relief to close out the game and maintain the shutout when Matthews reached the maximum pitch count he was allowed to throw.

Behind Matthews and Gigliotti, the defense made a number of outstanding plays to keep Punxsy's shutout in tact.

And offensively, No. 2 hitter Matt Blose led the surge — which saw Punxsy scoring in four of the six trips it had to the plate — going 4-for-4 with a two-run home run and five RBIs.

Punxsy wasted no time jumping on top of DuBois to put it in a hole, as the visitors put up a two-spot in the top half of the first inning to take what would end up being a lead that would last with Matthews' strong effort on the mound.

Matthews started the game off by driving the first pitch he saw off DuBois starter Thomas Grecco the opposite way for a double down the right field line, and with Matthews on second base, Blose came through with his first of four hits — a two-run home run over the center-field fence that put Punxsy ahead by a pair.

"I told these guys, I think that was a bit demoralizing for DuBois," coach Gigliotti said after the game. "Brandon came up and started it with a double, and Matt hit one out of the park on a good, hard-throwing pitcher in Grecco. I think that really helped turn the tide."

Grecco settled in after that, retiring the next three hitters he faced — Tyler Richardson, Gigliotti and Zander Neal — on a pair of strikeouts and a weak pop fly to himself.

DuBois mustered a pair of baserunners of its own in the bottom of the frame despite not earning a hit, as Matthews walked No. 2 hitter Mitchell Ferra with one out and put Grecco on with a pair of outs.

He worked out of the bind, though, by forcing No. 5 hitter Peter Foradora to pop out to Gigliotti at second and end the threat.

Grecco came back out firing in the top of the second and forced a pair of grounders — one to second base and another to third — and a strikeout to retire Punxsy's Matt Greenblatt, Johnny Serian and Lucas Deet in order, and DuBois came right back in looking to roll with the momentum.

Dalton Conrad kept things rolling for the host with an infield single, but Matthews bounced back to strike out No. 7 hitter Nick Colter on a nice hold by catcher Neal and No. 8 hitter Mason Britton on a strikeout.

No. 9 hitter Jack Mohney connected on a two-out shot toward Gigliotti, who thought it was going to hop, and when it stayed down, the ball rolled past him into right field.

But some good hustle in the outfield and a perfect relay throw from Richardson to Neal at the plate struck down Conrad, as he slid right into the tag to retire the side and maintain the shutout.

"Tyler made a great relay on that play," coach Gigliotti said after the game. "Later in the game, we got a heads-up play by Brandon to get another baserunner. Those are inning killers. The pitching was great, and we only had two or three errors. For a bunch of 12-year-olds, that's not too bad at all."

Punxsy added one more in the top of the third to extend its lead to three runs, and it all started with a one-out infield single by Matthews.

Blose singled for his second hit of the game, moving Matthews up to second, and Richardson grounded one sharply to third, which went down as a fielder's choice, retiring Blose at second on a 5-4 putout.

Matthews made an aggressive turn around third base, and when the second baseman threw the ball home to prevent him from moving up, the catcher misplayed it, allowing Matthews to score on the error.

Gigliotti legged out an infield single when the throw just barely pulled the first baseman off the bag to put a pair on the corners again. But Grecco managed another K to retire the side and hold the lead to three.

DuBois picked up its second — and what would prove to be its final — hit in the third inning on a two-out double by Daron Walker after Matthews struck out Kelly Ho and Farra to start the inning. But a nice play by Cameron Coble at third retired Grecco and set DuBois down to maintain Punxsy's 3-0 lead at the halfway point.

Punxsy's most productive inning came in the fourth — with a bit of help from a pair of fielding blunders by DuBois — as the visitors put up four runs on two hits and two walks.

Grecco led off the inning by walking Coble, but he managed to retire pinch hitter Carl Medsger on a nice diving play by the left fielder and set down Colton Roken with a K.

With two outs, though, he walked Tyler Getch to put a pair on, and DuBois decided to turn to its bullpen and bring in Walker to pitch.

Walker got the grounder he needed off the bat of Matthews, but when Matthews tore down the line, he reached safely when the ball popped out of the first baseman's glove, loading the bases for the game's clutch hitter — Blose.

Blose delivered again with a two-out RBI single right back up the guy to plate Coble and Getch and give Punxsy a 5-0 lead.

Richardson connected on a sharp grounder to third during the next at-bat, but again, his hustle down the line allowed him to reach safely, as the throw short-hopped at first for an E5. The throw allowed both Matthews and Blose to come the whole way around and score, but with Richardson hitting the bag awkwardly, he was also forced to leave the game with an injury.

He was replaced by special pinch runner Kevin Constant, who moved up to second on a single by Gigliotti — his second of the game — but the pair were stranded there when Walker got some more defensive help on a nice diving play in left to steal a hit from Neal.

From that point forward, Matthews cruised, not allowing another hit and walking just one batter.

In the fourth, DuBois snuck in a baserunner when Foradora reached safely on a bobbled fly ball in left, but Matthews bore down and struck out pinch hitter Buddy Lines looking for the first out.

After the called third strike, Foradora tried a delayed steal as the ball was being thrown back to Matthews, but Punxsy was ready for it, and Matthews threw a strike to Greenblatt, who applied the tag for the second out.

Matthews caught pinch-hitter Kevin Beck looking at a third strike for the third out, and Punxsy came right back to answer with another pair in the top of the fifth.

Grenblatt re-entered for Coble and led off the inning with a walk, and Serian re-entered to single him to second

Roken stepped into the box next and loaded the bases with a single to center field, loading the bases with no outs.

Foradora, who had entered the game after the first two baserunners reached safely, almost got out of the tight spot, forcing Getch to pop one up for an infield fly rule and getting Matthews to pop out to Waker in foul territory.

But Punxsy displayed a bit more two-out lightning when Blose connected for an RBI infield single — giving him five on the evening — and Serian scored on a hard-hit ball off the bat off Deet that was thrown away by the shortstop.

Roken tried to stretch Punxsy's lead to 10 runs by sneaking home behind Serian on the play, but he came up just short, being called out to end the inning.

Mohney reached safely on an E9 in the fifth, and Matthews walked his third batter of the game — pinch hitter Robbie Martini — to put a pair on for DuBois with one out. But Matthews took care of that particular jam on his own, striking out the next two hitters in the meat of the lineup — Ferra and Walker — to end the inning and preserve his shutout once again.

Punxsy went down in order in the top of the sixth, but DuBois faced the daunting 9-0 lead coming into its last cuts.

Matthews started the inning with a backwards K, catching Grecco looking, and Gigliotti entered in relief.

"Brandon Matthews pitched an absolutely incredible game," coach Gigliotti said. "A two-hit shutout is unbelievable. You just can't say enough about that."

Foradora drove a Gigliotti pitch toward center field, and Getch made a diving grab for the second out of the inning.

Conrad walked to reach base safely for the second time in the game, but Gigliotti struck out Beck for the game's final out, icing the win for Punxsy and crowning it the king seed.

With the win in the books, Punxsy now turns its focus to the championship game, which it will host Saturday afternoon in Punxsutawney against the winner of Thursday's game between DuBois and St. Marys or Fox Township. The winner of the District X South title will face the Northern division's champ early next week.