I-Medical within one win of Indiana Co. title

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Tuesday evening in Punxsutawney, top-seeded I-Medical hosted the Indiana Black Sox in the first game of the best-of-three finals for the Indiana County Youth League, and the home team earned yet another come-from-behind victory — downing the Sox 7-6 — to open up a 1-0 series lead and set up the potential series-winning game tonight in Indiana.

The Sox made things interesting with a five-run fifth, giving them a late lead, but the Punxsy squad showed no signs of quitting, tying it in the bottom of the fifth and going ahead in the sixth.

I-Medical starter Brycen Paulinellie got off to a good start in the first, retiring the first two Sox hitters he faced, but Indiana manufactured one run with two outs to take an early 1-0 lead.

Leadoff hitter Kevin Jack flew out to right fielder Ruben Taylor, and Paulinellie caught Cole Shaffer looking at a third strike on the outside corner for the second out.

But back-to-back singles back up the middle past Paulinellie by Blake Shields and Trent Ream gave the Sox life, and a walk to lefty Zack Schultz loaded the bases.

Paulinellie fanned Jonah Schall for what would have been the third out, but the ball skipped to the backstop, and catcher Clayton Dale's throw to first was just off the mark. Everyone was safe, and Shields had scored Indiana's first run.

I-Medical's luck wasn't so good in the bottom half of the first, as Sox starter Shields set Paulinellie, Dakota Thomas and Dale down in order on a flyout to left, a 6-3 putout and a called third strike on a curve ball.

Paulinellie kept the Sox off the board in the second with the help of some stellar defensive play by his squad.

He took the first out himself, fanning designated hitter Chase Kromer, and he got No. 9 hitter TJ Petro to pop softly to second baseman Dakotah Byers.

Jack reached base on a sharp single up the middle and advanced to second on a wild pitch. But he was stranded there when Taylor made a nice running play in foul territory to retire Shaffer for the third out.

I-Medical started to figure out Shields' pitching in the home half of the second, managing a pair of hits, but it stranded both runners and still trailed 1-0 after two.

Shields got Hunter Hickok swinging for the inning's first out, but a pair of back-to-back singles off the bats of Taylor and Byers put a pair on.

Shields forced the next two hitters — Lance Pennington and Brandon Blose — to fly out to center and left, respectively, and his shutout remained intact through two.

Paulinellie started the third inning on the right foot, striking out his mound counterpart Shields looking, and he followed it up with a swinging K of Ream for the second out.

But with two outs, Schultz peppered one to left that fell in for a two-out double, and Schall legged out a high chopper to third for an infield single to put runners on the corners.

Schall stole second uncontested to put two in scoring position, but Thomas handled a shallow fly ball off the bat of Barber for the third out to keep the Indiana lead at just one run.

I-Medical took its first lead of the game in the bottom of the third with three runs on three hits and a pair of walks.

Ethan Ambler started things off with a walk, and Paulinellie moved him to second on a long single — one which forced Ambler to hold at second as Schall almost made a great diving catch in center field.

Thomas tied things up by lacing one down the left field line to score Ambler, and Dale gave the home squad a 2-1 lead with an RBI single to center.

After Paulinellie scored on the Dale hit, Thomas rounded third base too aggressively and was caught in a pickle while Dale moved up to second base. But Thomas was retired for the first out.

Hickok struck out for the inning's second out, but a walk to Taylor and a bobbled ball at second kept I-Medical alive and plated Dale to push the lead to 3-1.

Petro provided the only offense for the Sox in the fourth, reaching on a one-out single and moving to second on a 1-3 putout of Jack.

Paulinellie got out of the tight spot, though, by getting Shaffer looking for the third out and his eighth K of the game.

It seemed as if I-Medical was going down in order in the fourth, but a K of Paulinellie skipped past catcher Schultz, and Paulinellie beat out the throw.

He stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error on the throw down to attempt to retire him, and Thomas walked and stole second uncontested to put two in scoring position for Dale — who has been red hot at the plate lately.

Shields managed to temporarily cool Dale's bat to force an F9 putout, though, and keep the home team's lead at two.

Shields helped his own cause by leading off the fifth with his second sharp single up the middle, and Ream traded places with him when Byers retired the lead runner on a nifty fielder's choice.

Schultz put runners on the corners, pulling one sharply to left, and Schall brought his team back within one with a shot to left to score Ream.

Ryan Snyder pinch hit for Barber and laid down a two-strike sacrifice bunt, but when Paulinellie had to double clutch, everyone reached safely, and it came back to hurt the home team.

The next batter, Kromer, drove a two-RBI double down the left-field line to give Indiana a 4-3 edge.

Two more crossed for the Sox in the inning, with Snyder scoring on a wild pitch and Kromer coming in on an RBI groundout by Petro.

Petro's groundout came off reliever Blose, who came on for Paulinellie, but the five fifth-inning runs were charged to Paulinellie, and after Blose struck out Jack to end the half inning, Punxsy trailed 6-3.

But I-Medical wasted no time answering, putting up a three-spot to tie it in the home half of the fifth — doing it all with two outs.

It started with some help from the Sox, as Byers reached on a fielding error with two down.

Pennington followed with a walk, and Blose wasted no time clearing the bases with a two-RBI double to left, pulling his team back within one at 6-5.

Ambler followed with an RBI single past the second baseman to plate Blose and tie the game.

Blose worked out of a jam in the sixth to keep the score tied, as Shields reached on an error with one out and moved to second on the errant throw.

Shields came within 90 feet of scoring on a 6-3 putout by Paulinellie, but a 4-3 groundout off Schultz's bat ended the frame with it still tied at six.

I-Medical made it a one-run ball game in the home half of the sixth, taking the lead for good on a triple and a wild pitch.

The triple came off the bat of Dale, as he towered one to right, and the sun messed with the Indiana fielder, allowing the fly ball to drop in.

With Hickok at the plate, Jack, who had come on in relief in the fifth, threw a wild pitch, and Dale scampered home to put the home team up 7-6.

With I-Medical up one, Indiana made it interesting by moving a runner to third before Blose recorded the third out on a fly ball off the bat of Petro.

After a leadoff single by Schall and a stolen base put him in scoring position, Blose forced a pop up to short and a strikeout of Kromer.

But a passed ball moved Schall to third base before the F8 ended the game and gave I-Medical the 1-0 series edge.

Ahead by a game, I-Medical has the opportunity to close out the championships with a win tonight in Indiana.