PUNXSUTAWNEY — Focused was a word Punxsy first-year manager Mike Dickey constantly used Tuesday to describe the Chucks as they enter the District IX Class AAA Playoffs against Bradford.
The top-seeded Chucks have an ultimate goal of winning their eighth title in a row, but before they do that, they'll have to get past No. 4 Bradford at 4:30 p.m. today at Rich Kuntz Memorial Field in Punxsutawney.
Bradford has struggled all year before it finished the season with a 5-12 record. Two of those 12 defeats came to the Chucks — 5-3 March 28 in Punxsutawney and 16-5 last Saturday in Bradford. During the Owls' 17 games, they allowed the opposition to score double-digit runs seven times, including a 20-5 loss April 14 at home to DuBois. Bradford's pitching staff enters today's game with a 7.86 ERA on the season.
All things considered, Dickey said that the Chucks won't be looking toward the district title game just yet, even if Bradford's record is seven games under .500.
"We know where we need to get to, and we know we don't get there without taking care of business here," he said. "We won't look past anybody, for sure. We're focused, we're ready to go."
The Chucks (12-7), who are riding a six-game winning streak, have been dominant at home this season, recording an 8-1 record. But Dickey believes that home-field advantage is "only as important as your starting pitching."
"If you don't pitch well, it doesn't matter if you're at home or on the road," he said. "Certainly, we're more comfortable here. It's a little bit of an advantage, I suppose, but you still have to play the game."
Toeing the rubber for the Chucks today will be senior right-hander Joe Pisano, who has a 5.89 ERA over a team-high 27 1/3-innings.
Pisano has really picked up his game during the last three weeks of the season. He surrendered 20 runs over 13 innings during his first four games, but in his last three appearances, he has given up just three runs over his last 14 1/3-innings.
His last outing was a six-inning win over Brookville last Wednesday in which he struck out eight and allowed only one run.
"He's been coming on. Quite frankly, he has shown us the most to this point," Dickey said. "There's no need to save anybody. There's a week's rest in between (the semifinals and final), and Joe's the man."
Brodi Lowmaster (19 2/3-innings, 3.92 ERA), Dane Baker (17 2/3-innings, 3.96 ERA), Jamie Bush (16 2/3-innings, 6.72 ERA) and Taylor Neal (14 2/3-innings, 2.39 ERA) have also thrown double digit innings for the Chucks this season.
Jordan Harrington (33 innings, 7.00 ERA), Nunzio Cavallero (26 innings, 5.38) and Stephen Wilber (20 innings, 8.05 ERA) have been Bradford's main pitchers this season.
Leading the Bradford offense, which has hit .250 as a team, are Wilber (.400, two home runs, 10 RBIs, 15 runs), Aaron Fishkin (.356, 11 RBIs, 10 runs) and Colton Holzwarth (.339, seven RBIs, 14 runs). They are the Owls' only above-.300 hitters this season.
Punxsy has prided itself on a batting order that hits from top to bottom. Punxsy has seven players that have hit over .300 this year and is batting .335 as a team.
Sophomore Ty Zimmerman has team highs in average (.441), hits (26) and doubles (seven) to go along with 20 RBIs. Jordan Mesoraco is hitting .397 with a team-best seven doubles. He has driven in 25 runners and scored 21 times.
Tyler Skerkavich has a team-best five home runs and 31 RBIs. He's also hitting .381 with 21 runs.
Also batting over .300 this season are Lowmaster (.370, 22 RBIs), Zak Dickey (.339, team-best 28 runs), Luke Janocha (.333) and Bush (.312).
Punxsy outscored its opponents 78-24 during its season-ending six-game winning streak. The Chucks allowed just one run during three of those six wins.
"The fact that we're riding a six-game winning streak into the playoffs, we feel good about ourselves right now. We did what we set out to do, and now, it's time to take advantage of that," Dickey said. "We wanted the No. 1 seed to get a home game or a bye, whatever the case may have been. And now, we're focused on one at a time to get where we need to go."
Punxsy was off to a great start this season, winning its first four games. After that, the Chucks' record swooned to 6-7 with losses in seven of their next nine games. Dickey hopes the Chucks are saving their best baseball for the postseason, and the team's six-game winning streak is a good reason for that hope.
"We know that we need to play our best baseball to accomplish our goals, so I hope you're going to see that," Dickey said. "We practiced today like we know what's at stake."
What's at stake is the opportunity to reach another district title game, and the Chucks aren't taking today's semifinal game lightly.