Punxsy MLBB holds off St. Marys and elimination

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Although Punxsy was the host for Wednesday evening's nine- and 10-year-old All-Star game against St. Marys, the coin toss before the game determined that St. Marys would be the home team, and thus get last at-bats. But Punxsy used the momentum that came with a big first inning to go on to earn a 6-3 victory over St. Marys in a game the host never trailed.

"With those guys coming down here, we knew we'd be relying on a coin toss, and that's tough," Punxsy coach Darrin Kriebel — who was filling in for manager Brian Ishman, who couldn't attend — said after the game. "Sometimes, it's nice having the first at-bat, and sometimes it's just not. Tonight, we got two in the first and never trailed. That's big, because it puts pressure on the other team, too."

With the victory, Punxsy staved off elimination to play another game, and that game will take place Friday against Johnsonburg in Punxsutawney.

In that always-important top half of the first, Punxsy put up a pair of runs to jump out to a 2-0 lead, putting St. Marys in an early hole from which it would not escape.

Micah Kriebel opened the game with a walk and quickly stole second to put a runner in scoring position. But St. Marys starter Brandon Sicheri bounced back with a strikeout of No. 2 hitter Adison Neal for the first out and forced Daren Byers to fly out to left for the second out.

Punxsy came up with a bit of two-out magic, though, when cleanup hitter Derek Ishman belted an RBI double to the left-center field fence to give Punxsy a one-run lead.

Zack Reitz followed Ishman's RBI knock with a single to move Ishman to third, and with two outs, Reitz ran a delayed steal in an attempt to draw the throw. When Ishman was almost caught breaking too far off third, the catcher threw down to attempt to retire him, and the ball bounded into left field allowing Ishman to score Punxsy's second run.

Reitz, however, was retired attempting to sneak back into third when the ball beat him back to the bag.

St. Marys did manage to manufacture a run in the home half of the inning on three hits by the top of the lineup.

Lefty Sicheri got things going with a sharp single to right field, and No. 2 hitter Will Uberti kept it rolling with a bloop single of his own.

Punxsy starter Graham McFarland struck out No. 3 hitter Isaac Wortman for the inning's first out, but while Wortman was in the box, Sicheri snuck home when a throw back to the pitcher was dropped to give the traveling team its first run.

Kael Azzato singled to put a pair on and stole second to put both in scoring position, but a strikeout of Nathan Roberts and a putout by shortstop Byers off the bat of Ben Hoffman ended the inning and the threat with a pair stranded.

Sicheri quickly retired two in the second inning on a strikeout of Jackson Fezell and a 6-3 putout of McFarland before Zack VanLeer reached base on a blooper just out of the shortstop's reach. VanLeer's hustle put him at second, as he never stopped running and slid in safely.

Unfortunately for Punxsy, he was stranded at third when Carter Newcome was set down on another Sicheri K.

Tyler Boland reached base on a hard-hit ball to first when first baseman Ishman bobbled it, and he stole second with one out after McFarland got Jacob Carnovale to pop out to second.

McFarland fanned Tyler Herzing for the second out of the inning, and when Sicheri belted one in the hole between short and third, Byers saved a run by making a nice diving play on the infield single.

Boland tried to sneak home with Sicheri stealing second, but ended up being put out by Newcome and McFarland on a 2-1-2 play for the third and final out.

Leading 2-1, Punxsy had its most productive inning of the game in the third, scoring three runs to give itself some breathing room.

It started with the help of a pair of St. Marys' errors when Kriebel reached on an E4, and after he stole second, pinch hitter Andrew Young reached on the same scoring call.

On Young's hit to the second baseman, the ball skipped into the outfield, and Kriebel came around to score.

Byers hit a sharp single up the middle to put runners on first and second before St. Marys picked up two consecutive outs on a pop to second by Ishman and a fielder's choice on an attempted sacrifice bunt off Reitz's bat, getting the lead runner at third.

Punxsy did it with two outs again, though, with some aggressive baserunning paying off. First, Byers came in to score on a double steal, and on the throw home to get him, Reitz moved up to third, allowing him to score on a passed ball later in Fezell's at-bat to give Punxsy a 5-1 lead.

Fezell struck out for the third out of the inning, but the damage was done, and Punxsy's lead was four runs.

McFarland allowed a pair of third-inning baserunners on a two-out single by Azzato and a walk to Roberts, but his fourth strikeout of the game against pinch hitter Gregg Tettis ended the threat with the four-run lead still in tact.

Punxsy's half of the fourth saw it strand a pair of runners, as well, with Newcome's two-out double and Kriebel's two-out single going to waste when Sicheri retired Young on a K — the final batter Sicheri would face, as he had reached his maximum pitch count.

With his pitch count rising as well, McFarland made quick work of the home team in the fourth, setting them down in order on a pop to Byers, a 6-3 putout and a strikeout — his fifth of the game.

Byers added Punxsy's final insurance run in the top of the fifth with a leadoff inside-the-park home run to the fence in right field. Punxsy managed one other baserunner on a two-out single by Max London — who had entered the game for Fezell — but he was stranded at first after relief pitcher Uberti struck out Alec Greenblatt.

St. Marys answered back with a pair in the bottom of the inning — its most productive frame off reliever Kriebel — sparked by a one-out infield single by Uberti, an RBI double by Wortman to center and a hard-hit RBI single up the middle by Roberts with two outs.

A swinging K from Kriebel got Punxsy out of the inning, though, with it still ahead by three runs, 6-3.

Punxsy was set down in order in the sixth despite a leadoff walk issued to VanLeer, as Newcome struck out, VanLeer was forced out on a fielder's choice by Kriebel, and Kriebel was caught stealing to end the inning.

Punxsy's three-run lead would prove to be enough, though, when Kriebel stranded one runner at third and kept St. Marys off the scoreboard in the sixth to close the deal.

Boland was the lone baserunner for St. Marys, having reached on a single and advancing to third when Greenblatt was injured while making a play on the ball.

Greenblatt was OK, but was replaced by McFarland in right, and Kriebel went to work forcing three straight flyouts of varying distances — one to shortstop, one back to him at the mound and one to center field, where Reitz made the final putout.

After the game, coach Kriebel said he was very pleased with the way everyone on his team played, beginning with his pitchers.

"Graham pitched really well to start, and we only had one walk all game as a team," he said. "At this level — nine- and 10-year-olds — that's just great. You have to play your best come All-Stars, and these guys played their best to earn this win. The subs came in and did their jobs, and we talk about making plays and putting pressure on them to make the plays. We took some chances on a couple stolen bases and on Daren's home run. But it worked out, and I'm really proud of these guys."