PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsy baseball team has been a notoriously slow starter the past few years.
When the Chucks won the state title in 2007, they followed a 6-5 start by winning 10 of their final 12 games. Last year, Punxsy's seventh-straight District IX Class AAA Championship team started 3-7.
Monday, in a change from years past, Punxsy continued its quick start behind home runs by Tyler Skerkavich and Ty Zimmerman when it improved to 4-0 after a 16-9 victory over Class AAAA DuBois.
Prior to the season, first-year manager Mike Dickey said that the Chucks were going "to rely on our pitching and defense early and hope the offense catches up."
Through four games, instead of winning with its pitching, Punxsy has scored 39 runs, but he knows that won't continue all season.
"We can't continue to just try to outscore people. We have to get better," Dickey said. "But we're 4-0, and we're happy about that."
Punxsy's No. 2 through 4 hitters — Zimmerman, Jordan Mesoraco and Skerkavich — finished 7-for-12 with 13 RBIs and eight runs scored. Skerkavich hit a three-run home run during the Chucks' six-run second inning, and Zimmerman's grand slam that cleared the fence in right field improved Punxsy's lead to 16-8 during the seventh.
Punxsy struck out 10 times, but in the clutch, the Chucks performed.
"We seem to have some bad at-bats, but when we really need to clutch up, somebody steps up and does," Dickey said. "These guys are resilient."
Punxsy's Taylor Neal was the epitome of that fact. He struck out during each of his first three at-bats, only to rip an RBI double in the fifth inning that pushed Punxsy's advantage to 12-8.
"Taylor had a rough day at the plate, but he had a big double in that last at-bat," Dickey said.
Zak Dickey reached base four times and finished 2-for-4 with four runs scored. Brodi Lowmaster doubled, walked twice, was hit by a pitch and scored twice, and Devan Neal scored twice, singled and walked two times.
Punxsy's offense made up for the team's struggles in the field and troubles finding the strike zone. The Chucks committed three errors and walked nine batters, and five of DuBois' first eight runs were unearned.
"I'm not too concerned about errors," manager Dickey said. "I'm not concerned about throwing strikes and making mental mistakes — missing signs and stuff like that."
Once Taylor Neal stepped to the mound to start the fifth inning, most of the Chucks' issues went away. He walked three batters — much like both starter Joe Pisano and reliever Luke Janocha did prior to Neal's arrival — but he worked out of a pair of jams in the fifth and seventh innings and helped the Chucks preserve their lead.
DuBois (0-1) had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth when a grounder back to the pitcher's mound and pop out ended the Beavers' rally. After a 1-2-3 sixth inning, Punxsy's defense completed a game-ending 4-6-3 double play to finish DuBois.
"He did enough to close it down, and that's what we asked him to do," Dickey said about Taylor Neal. "I didn't want to use anybody else, so I was thankful that we had a nice little double play to end it."
Pisano pitched the first 2 1/3-innings in his first start of the season. He allowed five runs (three earned) on four hits with two strikeouts.
In his first-ever varsity appearance, Janocha earned the win after he surrendered three unearned runs during 1 2/3-innings, and Neal pitched the final three innings, allowed one run and received the save, since Punxsy was ahead 9-8 when he entered the game.
DuBois starting pitcher John Georgino gave up seven runs (six earned) during two innings. Nate Liddle allowed five runs during the next 2 2/3-innings and took the loss. DuBois' pitchers issued 10 walks. Sean Sleigh had two singles and scored twice, Anthony Vizza ripped a two-run single, and Liddle doubled and scored twice for the Beavers.
Punxsy will visit St. Marys at 4:15 p.m. today.