Punxsy splits Monday's games, wins state tournament

PUNXSUTAWNEY — After losing the first championship game early Monday afternoon, Punxsy's 13- and 14-year old VFW Teener League All-Stars bounced back to win the winner-take-all championship game in the late afternoon to earn the title of state champs.

Trailing 4-1, Punxsy scored nine runs in the top of the fourth inning to take a 10-4 lead.

The big inning would prove to be enough as Brycen Paulinellie pitched a complete game, allowing six runs on nine hits and striking out ten, to earn the 14-6 win.

"Part of winning the whole thing is that we were well rested, having only played one game each day leading up to today," Punxsy manager Doug Mesoraco said. "I think we just had a little more gas in the tank. Bryson was well rested, and he really threw a tremendous game."

Pitching wasn't the only strong point for Punxsy in the deciding game, though, as they poured on 14 runs against four different Schuylkill pitchers.

Punxsy received help from Schuylkill East pitcher Harold Moll, who walked Matt Griffith, Ryan Jones and Ethan Ambler, loading the bases to begin the fourth inning and setting the stage for a play that was a turning point in the game according to Mesoraco.

T.J. Petro pinch hit for Keeston Perry, who had scored Punxsy's only run at that point after leading off the third inning with a double.

Petro came through with an inside-the-park grand slam down the right field line that kept tailing away from the right fielder, and ended up rolling to the fence.

"T.J. changed the momentum for us, coming in with that pinch-hit, inside-the-park grand slam," Mesoraco said. "T.J. had received six stitches earlier in the day during Game 1 after splitting his fingers open. He came back and said he thought he could play, so I told him we'd find a key situation for him. You couldn't have asked for anything better."

With Punxsy leading 5-4, Schuylkill decided to change pitchers again and brought in Ryan Kalinich, but the first five hitters Kalinich faced reached base and later scored.

Paulinellie and Ruben Taylor each singled, and Dakotah Byers and Zach Bevak each reached base on fielding errors. Brandon Blose walked, and Griffith, hitting for the second time in the inning, drove in two with a double, giving Punxsy a 10-4 lead.

Schuylkill answered in the bottom of the fourth with a bit of a rally when Aaron DeAngelo singled, and Aiden Liptok walked.

Both runners scored on a triple down the right field line for Connor Hinchcliffe, but Paulinellie ended the rally by forcing the next two hitters to ground out.

From that point forward, Paulinellie allowed just two hits and one walk and kept Schuylkill off the scoreboard.

Punxsy added four insurance runs in the top of the sixth. Lance Pennington led off the inning with a pinch-hit single. Byers grounded into a fielder's choice but was safe at first. Bevak singled, and both runners scored on a two-RBI double by Blose.

Blose scored on a single by Griffith, who scored on a double down the line by Doug Pollock to give Punxsy a 14-6 lead, which would prove to be the final score.

Mesoraco said that the championship was the result of months of hard work and practice, and winning the state championship meant it was all worth it.

"The fact is that this group of guys has been together since the end of February when we started practicing in the gym," he said. "It's been five full months of practicing and playing games, and you always want to get to that big game.

"Being the host, we really wanted to bring home the state championship, and put all that hard work into a win. We did it the hard way today, but we got it done."

The easy way would have been to win the championship in the first game, as Punxsy was the king-seed in the tournament.

But Schuylkill East defeated Punxsy in the 11 a.m. game by a final score of 16-6 in six innings, forcing a winner-take-all championship game later Monday afternoon.

"We kind of had a let down in the first game and gave up some easy runs because of a lot of walks," Mesoraco said. "We gave up 11 walks, and eight of those runners scored. We just weren't playing the fundamentals like we had been, and it ended rather quickly with the ten-run rule. We came back focused in on Game 2, though."

According to Mesoraco, Punxsy hasn't hosted a tournament of this nature since 1990, and he was thrilled to win the tournament as the host.

He was also thinking about the future after the game.

"This team came together from the beginning, and we're still working really hard," he said. "We've got two years with these same guys, and I expect big things from them next year, too."