Number 9 feels mighty fine: Chucks down St. Marys for D-IX title
BROCKWAY — Jamie Bush pitched a gem of a game; Ty Zimmerman homered to help Punxsy to a five-run first inning; and when all the pieces fell together, the Chucks earned a 6-0 victory over St. Marys to be named the District IX Class AAA champion for the ninth year running.
For a team that had a lot of question marks entering the season, Punxsy head coach Mike Dickey said this was "a tremendous accomplishment."
"As a young team coming in this year, expectation-wise, we expected to win, and we expected to play for championships," Dickey said after the award ceremony. "But really, as young as we were, we just couldn't know what to expect. These guys have accomplished a heck of a lot this year, and every one of these titles is sweet."
Punxsy was the home team, and so the Dutch had the first crack at putting some runs on the board.
But Bush did his part to make sure they didn't even get to consider that, forcing three lazy flyouts to retire the side in order and bring the Chucks to the dish.
Punxsy wasted no time giving Bush a bit of a cushion to work with, putting up a five-spot in the home half of the inning against surprise starter Quinn Cunningham.
Throughout the season, it seemed as if senior Brandon Tyger and junior Justin Beimel were the go-to guys for the Dutch, but it was Cunningham, whose ERA was below two for the season, who earned the starting nod in the biggest game of the season.
Riding the momentum from Bush's 1-2-3 inning, though, the Chucks hit around in the frame en route to the 5-0 lead.
Leadoff hitter Taylor Phillips did what he's done best all year long — got on base via a walk — to lead things off before No. 2 hitter Ryan Sloniger traded places with him on a fielder's choice.
Zimmerman was the next Punxsy hitter to come to the plate, and he drove a pitch deep over the fence in left field to give the Chucks a 2-0 lead.
"That was one thing we weren't sure about," Dickey said. "With a younger team, we didn't know how these guys would react to this atmosphere. But when Ty hit that home run, we said, "OK," and we really seemed to relax a bit."
With a little help from the Dutch infielders, though, the Chucks weren't done there.
Bush kept things rolling by hustling down the line on a ball hit to third, and when the throw pulled Tyger off the bag at first, Bush beat it out.
Garrett Zimmerman followed with a sharp single to right field, and Bush was plated on an RBI groundout to short by senior Luke Janocha.
With two outs and three runs already on the board, Punxsy didn't stop making noise there, as the Chucks added two more runs on a pair of back-to-back hits.
Sophomore third baseman Cory Geer kept things rolling with an RBI double to right-center to plate Zimmerman, and Michael Klingensmith bounced one off the plate and legged it out for an infield single.
When the catcher's throw to first sailed to the fence, Geer came around to score the final run of the inning.
Dickey said the extra runs were very important to his team's cause, as it showed a sense of fight and not settling for a few runs.
"We put the ball in play, made them make some plays and took advantage of a few mistakes they made," he said. "The thing I liked about that inning was we finished the inning. We could have been done with two, but we ended up getting five out of it."
Bush worked a quick second inning, as well, forcing a pop up and striking out two batters around the first hit he allowed — a well-placed infield single between short and third by Robert Watts.
The Chucks looked like they were in business again in the home half of the second, after Sloinger reached on an error with one out, and Cunningham walked the next two hitters he faced — Ty Zimmerman and Bush — to load the bags.
At that point, though, the Dutch turned to fireballer Beimel, who came in to work his way out of the jam by retiring the first two hitters he faced — and he went on to set down the first seven hitters he faced in order.
St. Marys' greatest threat came in the third inning, when Bush kick-started their rally by walking his first batter, Cunningham.
A single by Luke Schreiber put two on, and a fielding error allowed Dalton Kline to reach, loading the bases with just one out.
But Bush clamped down, forcing an infield-fly pop out by Tyger to Klingensmith at second and striking out cleanup hitter Brandon Voll- mer looking to retire the side.
"Jamie was gutsy today," Dickey said of his ace's performance. "I thought that was a big turning point, when they had the bases loaded with one out, and he got a pair of tough outs. That's what players do; that's what gamers do. He knew how important that was, and he got us out of it. Had they scored there, anything could have happened. We'd squandered an opportunity of our own with the bases loaded on offense, and I didn't want to see that come back and bite us. And Jamie stopped that from happening."
Bush allowed just two base runners from that point forward, setting the Dutch down in order in both the fourth and sixth innings
He allowed a walk to Mitchell Meyer and a seventh-inning single to pinch hitter Alexx Tyger as the only two blemishes on the rest of his start.
The Chucks put their first blemish on Beimel's pitching record in the fourth, when Ty Zimmerman and Bush put together a pair of back-to-back singles, but they were both stranded when Garrett Zimmerman drove a pitch to the fence in center — one that was caught by Watts.
Punxsy added its only insurance run in the sixth inning. Geer drove his second double of the game to the fence, and Klingensmith walked to put two runners on.
Geer's pinch runner, Alex Bevak, came around to score on an RBI single by senior Dane Baker, and the final score was set.
Up next for the Chucks is a PIAA State Championship Tournament game against the WPIAL's District VII runner-up Monday at a time and place to be determined.
Dickey said the team reached its ultimate goal, and anything that happens from here on out is just icing on the cake.
"Hey, we just want to get a little bit greedy, now," he said. "Everything is fun from here on out. The goal's always been to win a district title and to see if we can make some noise in the state playoffs. So, hopefully, that's what we can do now."