PUNXSUTAWNEY — The only forewarning the Chucks baseball team needed that it'd have its work cut out for it against Altoona Friday afternoon in Punxsutawney came April 16 when Punxsy eked out a 1-0 win over the Lions in Altoona. Altoona's record was a pretty good indicator, as well, as the Lions entered Friday's contest with just that one loss.
A strong effort in all facets of the game by the Chucks, though, meant Altoona headed back home with a pair of losses to the Chucks this year, as Punxsy earned a 6-1 victory.
Much like the earlier contest, Friday's game was a pitcher's duel, with each team recording just two hits through the first 4 1/2-innings.
The difference, though, was Punxsy's hits came just when they were needed, as the first two Chucks' hits drove in runs.
Altoona didn't manage its first run — an unearned run charged to starter Jamie Bush — until it was down to its last out in the seventh inning.
"Situationally, we did what we needed to do to earn the win today," Punxsy head coach Mike Dickey said after the game. "We moved runners today; we got bunts down; we stole bases when we needed to; and we executed well on the offensive end."
The thing that pleased Dickey most about his team's performance seemed to be the fact it was firing on all cylinders throughout the entire game.
"That's the mark of a good team," he said. "We're starting to realize what it takes and to see it's not about me, it's about us. I told the guys that one day they could be called off the bench to pinch hit, pinch run or lay a bunt down for us. Whatever it is we ask of them, we're feeding off each other and doing what it takes to win right now."
The only blemish on the Chucks' record for the day was a pair of errors — one in the first inning and one in the seventh, which allowed Altoona to score its run.
Both pitchers started the game in impressive fashion, as Bush and his counterpart, Alec Lytle, each faced the minimum number of batters.
Bush had to work a bit harder for his, as Altoona's No. 3 hitter Christian Helsel reached base on an error when Bush's throw to first on a dribbler in front of the plate wasn't fielded cleanly at first base.
Bush and first baseman Garrett Zimmerman teamed up to make sure Bush set the Lions down in order, though, when Bush caught Helsel leaning and picked him off with a 1-3-6 play.
After Punxsy came up empty in the bottom half of the first, Bush took care of Altoona himself in the third by striking out the side for his only three Ks of the afternoon.
The Chucks earned their first run in the home half of the second, although the run itself was unearned.
With one out, Bush reached base when Altoona's second baseman threw the ball out of the first baseman's reach.
Courtesy runner Hayden Muth advanced to second on a groundout to the shortstop by Dakotah Thomas. Muth came around to score when No. 7 hitter Alex Bevak, playing designated hitter for the Chucks, roped a single into right field to give Punxsy a 1-0 lead.
Bush retired the side in order again in the third with some help from his infielders on three sharply-hit ground balls, and the Chucks added another run in the home half.
With one out, leadoff hitter Taylor Phillips walked after falling behind in the count 0-2. Phillips battled off two close pitches by fouling them off, and ended up earning the walk.
After Lytle managed a strikeout to come one out away from eluding any trouble, Ty Zimmerman came through with a clutch two-out RBI double to the fence in left-center field to score Phillips.
Both teams had a hit in the fourth inning but were shut down by their opposing pitcher. Punxsy's hit was a leadoff single by Bush hit sharply down the third baseline, and Altoona's was a two-out, sharply-struck double that saw a bit of help from Mother Nature, as the wind knocked it down far short of where it should have landed.
Dane Baker also helped preserve the shutout with a nice diving play in center to record the second out of the inning.
With just a two-run lead, Bush allowed a leadoff single to Colby Fink to start the fifth inning, but he did his part to fix the problem by forcing the next batter, Dylan Conrad, to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to get out of the jam.
"That was a big double play and a huge turning point in the game," Dickey said. "Jamie induced the double play, and it seemed to be a big pick-me-up for our team. We felt it, too, and fed off it."
And feed off it, the Chucks did, as they brought seven hitters to the plate in the bottom half of the fifth and scored a pair of runs to double their lead.
Baker started the rally with a single on a chopper down the third baseline. Baker, who occasionally leads off for Punxsy, utilized his speed out of the box, and by the time the ball came down into the hands of the third baseman, it was clear the throw would be too late.
Phillips attempted to move Baker to second on a sacrifice bunt, but pulled his bat back as the pitch was out of the zone, and Baker ended up safely at second with a stolen base.
Phillips them successfully moved Baker to third, and after Ty Zimmerman was hit by a pitch, Baker scored on a wild pitch.
Garrett Zimmerman walked to put runners on first and second for Punxsy, and Bush helped his own cause with an RBI single — one that chased his counterpart Lytle from the game.
Lytle's replacement, Jason Douglas, retired the next batter to end the rally with the Chucks leading 4-0.
Bush had another efficient inning in the sixth, walking his first batter of the game but also stranding him at first, and the Chucks scored another pair in their half of the frame.
Michael Klingensmith singled and advanced to second on an error by the pitcher on an attempted pickoff move.
Baker followed with a single, moving Klingensmith to third base, and with runners on the corners, the Chucks perfectly executed a double steal to score Klingensmith. Baker moved to third when the catcher dropped the initial throw and scored when Phillips singled past a drawn-in Altoona infield to make it 6-0.
Bush returned to the mound for the seventh inning, but came just shy of pitching the complete game, as two of the first three hitters he faced managed singles, and he was lifted for reliever Cory Geer.
"Jamie was spotting the ball today," Dickey said. "He was very, very sharp, mixing his speeds and had them off balance. He was outstanding and kept us in the game until we could get some runs on the board. I just wanted to get him out of there at the end before he got a bad taste in his mouth from an outstanding effort, and we almost got out of it unscathed."
Geer retired the first batter he saw on a flyout to center bringing the Chucks within one out of a shutout, but a bobbled ball on the next ball in play allowed the Lions their first and only run of the game.
Geer struck out leadoff hitter Dylan Oswalt with the bases loaded to end the game and seal the win.
Bush's line from the mound showed 6 1/3-innings of five-hit work, during which he was charged with one run and one walk and struck out three.
Geer pitched the final 2/3-innings and allowed no hits, walked one and struck out one.
Bush and Baker led the Chucks in the hits category with two each.
Punxsy will be back in action Tuesday when it travels to St. Marys to take on the Dutchmen at 4:15 p.m.