PUNXSUTAWNEY — After a 4-0 loss to DuBois under the lights Saturday night in Punxsutawney, Punxsy's 11- and 12-year-old baseball All-Star team bounced back in a big way, downing DuBois 12-6 to earn the District X South title and a shot at the outright championship against Warren.
Because Warren is currently undefeated and Punxsy's loss carries over, Punxsy will have to win a pair to be named the champions, while Warren must win just once. The first game of the series will take place in Warren Tuesday.
Saturday was a rough night for Punxsy, as the All-Stars fell behind early to DuBois when No. 3 hitter Daron Walker hit a two-run, towering home run to center field to give the visiting squad a lead it would never relinquish.
DuBois starter Thomas Grecco went five innings, allowing no runs on three hits and striking out seven, and Dalton Conrad closed out the game with one shutout inning.
Peter Foradora also had a home run to help his team's cause Saturday, but after a coin toss determined Punxsy would play the host Sunday as well, Punxsy wrote an entirely different story in the big, D-X South-clinching win Sunday afternoon.
"Monday, we played them in Dubois, and Matt Blose hit a home run as the second batter of the game; that was a game-winner," Punxsy manager Brad Gigliotti said after the game. "Their third hitter did the same thing to us Saturday night, and we walked around with our heads hanging for four innings; we were already beaten. We went down early in this one, though, and I give these guys all the credit in the world. We didn't give up; we didn't pack it in. This team has a lot of heart."
DuBois was again the visiting team on the scoreboard Sunday, and Punxsy starter Tyler Richardson got his team off to a good start, registering two straight 1-3 putouts to open the game.
Walker proved to be up to the task again, though, with a single up the middle, and Foradora followed with a second nearly-identical single up the middle to put a pair on.
Grecco broke the shutout with a rocket down the left field line all the way to the fence for a long single.
He would have trotted safely into second for a double, but after Walker scored, Foradora was gunned down at the plate on a 7-6-2 putout to end the inning and minimize the damage.
DuBois starter Conrad was too much for Punxsy to figure out in the first inning, setting down Punxsy in order on a pair of groundouts and a nice defensive play on a come-backer he watched sail right back into his glove.
DuBois threatened again in the second but left the bases packed after a leadoff walk to Nick Cotter, a single by Zach Thompson and an infield single by Jack Mohney loaded them up.
Richardson worked out of the mess, though, forcing Mitchell Ferra to ground into a 5U fielder's choice to end the inning.
Matt Greenblatt singled on an infield blooper that had eyes in the bottom of the second for Punxsy's first hit, and he moved up to third on a passed ball and a wild pitch. He would make it no farther, though, as Conrad managed to get a pair of soft pop ups off the bats of John Serian and Colton Roken.
DuBois added a second run in the top of the third after a leadoff single by Walker, who moved up to third when the throw in from center skipped the entire way through the infield.
Richardson managed to hold Walker at third on a grounder to second by Foradora, but he couldn't do the same on a three-unassisted play off the bat of Grecco, putting DuBois' second run on the board.
The bottom of the third was the turning point of the game, though.
Having hit Conrad fairly hard all game, Punxsy wasn't getting any breaks, but there was one place Punxsy found that it could hit it where no great defensive play could stop its players from reaching base: Over the fence.
After getting Zander Neal to pop out, Conrad began to struggle, as Punxsy's next three hitters built the drama up a bit and set the stage.
Pinch hitter Kevin Constant got things started with a one-out walk, and Brandon Matthews singled on a high chopper over the third baseman's head to put a pair on.
Blose singled sharply to center, but he hit it so hard that Constant had to stop at third, as the ball was already on its way back into the infield.
Richardson wasted no time helping his own cause, though, reaching down to drive a pitch that was coming in just below his knees high and deep over the left-center field fence for a grand slam.
After Punxsy had taken the lead, it wasted little time adding some insurance runs to its tally, as the next two hitters reached base.
Sammy Gigliotti doubled into the left field corner — a hit that chased Conrad from the mound and brought Buddy Lines on in relief — and Greenblatt was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second.
That set the tone for Punxsy's second long ball of the game — a pull shot to right field by lefty pinch hitter Carl Medsger that wasted no time leaving the ball park and giving Punxsy a 7-2 lead.
"Tyler's grand slam was the spark, and then Carl came right back with that three-run home run to put it right to them and break their backs," coach Gigliotti said. "Those two hits were just huge."
Medsger was greeted at home plate by his teammates — just as Richardson had been — but after the celebration, Punxsy's coaching staff could be heard reminding the players that the game was far from over, and they were right.
Lucas Deet couldn't put the bat on a Lines pitch, and he struck out for the second out of the inning, but Lines walked Cameron Coble with two outs.
It appeared as if Lines had worked out of the jam when he got Constant swinging at the third strike, but the ball bounced off the catcher's mask and bounded away, allowing Constant to scamper down to first and reach on the error.
Matthews made the error hurt, driving an RBI single to left field to make the score 8-2. After Walker replaced Lines and Blose walked, Richardson grounded out to second to end Punxsy's big inning.
DuBois had its biggest inning of the game in the fourth, grabbing three runs on four hits to narrow Punxsy's lead to just three runs.
Cotter led off the inning with a triple on a ball that took a bad skip to the fence in right field, and pinch hitter Robbie Martini plated Cotter with a single to left.
At that point, Punxsy opted to relieve Richardson with Blose, who retired the first two hitters he faced before back-to-back RBI singles by Ferra and Walker narrowed the margin to 8-5.
Punxsy went scoreless in the fourth after a leadoff double by Gigliotti, and DuBois cut one more run off the lead tally on a Grecco home run to lead off the fifth.
Blose settled in after that, though, striking out two of the next three hitters and recording an F6 to maintain Punxsy's lead.
The host added four one-out runs in the bottom of the fifth to give itself some breathing room at 12-6.
Tyler Getch and Matthews started it with back-to-back hard singles up the middle, and after the pair each moved up 60 feet on a wild pitch, both scored on the same passed ball as DuBois couldn't get a handle on the loose ball.
Blose kept things rolling with a one-out single to left, and after Richardson singled, Blose scored on a pair of wild pitches.
Richardson came in to score on a third passed ball, and Punxsy's lead was set.
Cotter came on in relief, and he retired the next two he faced, but the damage was done, and it was too late.
Colby Ho led off the top of the sixth by being hit with a Blose fastball, awarding him first base. But a pair of nice plays by Matthews at short — a 6-4 fielder's choice on a ball in the hole and a 6-3 double play on a grounder up the middle — ended DuBois' hopes of advancing and gave Punxsy the win.
"It just feels great," coach Gigliotti said. "DuBois is a good team, and we've battled them for the last three years. We give them a lot of credit for how well they've played us, but we have to give our guys a lot of credit to for being able to battle like that."