PUNXSUTAWNEY — Down 11-4 in the seventh inning, having suffered through four 1-2-3 innings and not scoring since the second inning, the Punxsy baseball team seemed destined to lose its first game of the season to State College Tuesday.
Not these Chucks.
For the second-straight year, the Chucks (3-0) erased a seven-plus run deficit at Rich Kuntz Memorial Field by scoring eight runs in their final inning Tuesday to shock the Little Lions, 12-11.
Sophomore Garrett Zimmerman, starting for the first time at the varsity level Tuesday, reached base for the second time in the seventh inning with an RBI single that cut the deficit to 11-9. One batter later, Zimmerman, not one of Punxsy's fastest base runners, was rounding the bases on senior Brodi Lowmaster's game-winning, three-run hit down the right-field line.
"That was a heck of a way to finish. We put the ball in play and made them make plays," Punxsy manager Mike Dickey said. "There's no way Garrett was getting the stop sign. I told Devan (Neal) on second, 'You get a secondary (lead), because you're scoring.' I wasn't thinking I was going to be waving the guy from first, but that was great."
Lowmaster's hit scored Taylor Neal from third and Devan Neal from second with ease. As anticipation of Zimmerman rounding third started to build in the Punxsy dugout and stands, the sophomore slid into home without a throw before jumping into the arms of the Neal cousins.
The Chucks then found Lowmaster in the infield, jumping into his arms.
"The heart coming back, that's the kind of thing that maybe brings a team together," Dickey said. "We need that. We need to band together."
State College (0-1) led 2-0 after the first inning, but the Chucks took a 4-2 lead after a four-run second inning. Ty Zimmerman had a two-run bloop single down the first-base line, and both Devan Neal and Luke Janocha drove in a runner with hits during the second inning.
Lowmaster, Punxsy's starting pitcher, lasted just 2 1/3-innings, allowing four runs on four hits and four walks.
In came Dane Baker, who surrendered six runs during 3 1/3-innings. Taylor Neal earned the win, throwing the final 1 1/3-innings.
State College's Mike Finlan threw the first six innings and struck out four. Brandon Auman pitched during the seventh for the Little Lions and gave up eight runs on six hits. He also walked in two runs.
Garrett Zimmerman started the seventh by reaching base on an error. After a Lowmaster fly out, Janocha singled, and Zak Dickey singled Garrett Zimmerman home.
Ty Zimmerman then singled to load the bases, and Jordan Mesoraco brought in Janocha with a walk.
A sacrifice fly by Tyler Skerkavich scored Dickey before Taylor Neal singled to load the bases, and Devan Neal walked in Punxsy's eighth run.
It was a great comeback for the Chucks Tuesday, but manager Dickey knows his team can't succeed every time that it falls behind by seven runs entering the seventh.
"We put ourselves in that position. We should have never been down," he said. "We can't expect comebacks like that every day. We have to focus for seven innings."
Thursday's game started a string of six-straight games against Quad-A or Triple-A opponents for Punxsy. That streak continues with the Chucks' first road contest of the year at noon Saturday against the Williamsport Millionaires.
"We're not happy with how we're playing necessarily, but we're happy to be 3-0. We're climbing the mountain one step at a time and trying to get a little bit better every day," Dickey said. "We have a tough stretch coming here. We're not looking past today. We have to prepare, focus and be ready to play."