DUBOIS — Two months removed from his first collegiate baseball season, Punxsy's Braedon Pennington was nearly unhittable Thursday night during the Jefferson County American Legion playoffs.
Pennington, who will begin his sophomore year at Allegany College of Maryland this fall, allowed just one hit and an unearned run during John J. Fisher Post No. 62 of Punxsutawney's 2-1 victory over DuBois at Showers Field.
With the win, Punxsy is now the king seed. Top-seeded DuBois will have to beat Clearfield at 6 p.m. Saturday in DuBois to earn a rematch with Punxsy at 6 p.m. Sunday. One win pushes Punxsy into the regional tournament, while the DuBois-Clearfield winner will have to defeat Punxsy Sunday and Tuesday to head to regionals.
Clearfield defeated Brookville, 12-0, in five innings Thursday to reach the losers' bracket final and eliminate Brookville.
Thursday night was all about Pennington, who hardly look stressed at any point in the game. DuBois never had two runners on base at once, and it didn't score until the sixth inning, when Matt Zimmerman reached second on a two-base error by Punxsy third baseman Joe Pisano. Zimmerman moved to third on a Nate Liddle fly out and scored on a Dante DeSantis groundout.
Pennington retired six in a row after Zimmerman reached base, including two-straight strikeouts of Mario Gregorio and Derek Clark to end the game.
"Braedon, when he had to bare down in the sixth inning, he did his job. He knew he had two runs to work with," Punxsy manager Mike Dickey said. "He didn't get rattled with a guy on base in a tight game. Classic Braedon."
DeSantis, DuBois' starting pitcher, was nearly as crisp as Pennington.
Punxsy, however, began to sit on his first-pitch fastballs, and that's how it scored both runs.
After Punxsy stranded two runners in the first inning and went down in order during the second, Kyle Neal ripped the first pitch he saw over the fence in left field.
"That was a big hit. That lifted us," Dickey said. "It didn't get us rolling so much, but when Braedon's pitching with a lead, we feel pretty good."
Punxsy, which knew one run wouldn't be enough to beat DuBois, added a second run in the fourth inning. Tyler Skerkavich, who went 2-for-3, singled to lead off the fourth and moved to third after both a sacrifice bunt by Jordan Mesoraco and a groundout to second base by Ty Zimmerman.
Designated hitter Spencer Levy then lined the first pitch he saw off DeSantis, and DuBois shortstop Liddle was unable to throw out Levy in time after the ricochet. Skerkavich scored in the process to provide Punxsy with what was the game-winning run.
"That was a big at-bat," Dickey said about Levy. "We did enough to squeak out two runs, and Braedon made it stand up."
Pennington threw a complete game without walking a batter and striking out eight. DeSantis also threw all seven innings, surrendering six hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts.
"That was pretty dominating stuff (with) two good pitchers going at it," Dickey said.
"Good pitching beats good hitting, and that's what we saw tonight."
Sean Sleigh had DuBois' only hit — a single in the second inning. He also reached base on an error in the fourth inning. He was unable to advance to second base both times.
Pennington doubled, and Mesoraco singled for Punxsy's other two hits.
Punxsy wouldn't be surprised if DuBois beats Clearfield to earn a rematch at Showers Field. And since DuBois is the top seed, every game it plays will be at home.
But Punxsy has the leg up, and even if expected starting pitcher Pisano doesn't lead his team to victory over DuBois or Clearfield Sunday, Pennington should be ready to toe the rubber again Tuesday with the Jefferson County title on the line.
"We're sure we'll see them again, and JoePa's ready to go," Dickey said about Sunday's game. "If we happened to have to go to Tuesday, Braedon will be sitting and waiting. That's a big advantage for us at this point."