Last men standing: I-Medical holds off Black Sox for Indiana Co. title

PUNXSUTAWNEY — After splitting a pair of games with the S.W. Jack Black Sox in the championship series of the Indiana County Junior Legion League, Punxsy's I-Medical won a thrilling slugfest over the Sox Thursday night in Punxsutawney to close out the series and be crowned champions.

After the game, I-Medical head coach Doug Pennington spoke about how happy he was for his squad, which has seen most of its players play together over the past three years in Legion ball.

"It's big; basically, we have eight 15-year-olds, two 14s and a 13," he said. "And that's how they started out — they started out young, and the first year, they took their lumps. The second year, they were a couple games over .500, and this year, they only lost two games. That's how it was set up. The chemistry is huge, and it showed."

Things looked bleak for the visiting squad right off the bat, as Punxsy put up eight runs in the first inning to take a big lead, but Pennington credited Indiana for its ability to battle back — a trait its displayed all season.

"I really expected our guys to come out on fire," he said. "We've stressed it all season long. We've always showed up and gone with the flow for the first couple innings. I've told them numerous times, you can't just turn it on and turn it off. Yestersday, we went over to Indiana, and they came out and put five on us in the first inning. I told these guys we needed to get them down right off the bat. But as usual, (Indiana) found their way back into the game."

I-Medical set the tone early, with starter Dakota Thomas retiring Indiana in order in the top of the first and the home team putting up an eight-spot in the home half.

Sox starter Zack Schultz started the inning by retiring leadoff hitter Bryson Paulinellie on a high pop up to shortstop, but I-Medical brought 12 more hitters to the plate in the frame, running up eight runs on eight hits and two walks.

Thomas started the rally with a chopper up the middle that snuck through for a single, and catcher Clayton Dale waited on an 0-2 off speed pitch, pushing it to right to put two on.

Ruben Taylor took a full count walk to load the bases with just one down, and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Dakotah Byers gave Punxsy its first lead and moved Dale to third.

A pickoff attempt got away from the Indiana first baseman, and Dale sprinted home for I-Medical's second run, and a second errant pickoff throw by Schultz moved Taylor from first to third.

Hunter Hickok kept things rolling with two outs, chopping one high over the third baseman's head to plate Taylor, and when the left fielder misplayed it, he ended up on third.

No. 7 hitter Lance Pennington laced one the opposite way to the left-center gap to drive in Hickok.

A Brandon Blose single moved Pennington to third, putting runners on the corners and chasing Schultz for reliever Blake Shields.

Shields fared no better against I-Medical, facing just four hitters and allowing each to reach base safely.

No. 9 hitter Ethan Ambler was the first to connect, pushing a pair across with a single over the second baseman's head and pushing the Punxsy lead to six.

Paulinellie did his part, as the 10th batter of the inning, driving a double to left to put two in scoring position, and Thomas capped the eight-run inning with a two-RBI single in front of the left fielder.

After a walk to Dale put two on again, the Sox turned to their third pitcher of the inning — Cole Shaffer — who retired Taylor looking at a third strike to end the barrage.

Indiana refused to roll over, answering with four runs of their own in the second on three hits and three walks.

Trent Ream and Schultz led off the frame with back-to-back singles — one to left one to right — and after Thomas retired the next two he faced, Indiana kept rolling with two outs.

Chase Kromer loaded the bases with a walk, and TJ Petro put the Sox on the board with an RBI single in the hole between short and third base.

Kevin Jack and Shaffer each took four-pitch RBI walks for Indiana's second and third runs, and Petro rounded out the four-run frame, scoring on a wild pitch to cut the I-Medical lead in half.

I-Medical nudged the lead back to five at 9-4 with one run in the home half.

Hickok got things rolling with a one-out single in the hole, and he moved to third on a single over the first base bag by Pennington. Pennington was gunned down trying to stretch the hit into a double, but Blose took advantage of the runner in scoring position, doubling to left to score Hickok.

Each team scored one in the third inning, and Indiana did so without even managing a hit.

Ream walked to lead things off, and he advanced to second on a passed ball.

Schultz grounded out to first, moving Ream to third, and after a walk to Schall, Ream scored on an RBI-groundout off the bat off Ryan Snyder.

I-Medical's run in the third came on three hits, beginning with a leadoff single to left by Paulinellie.

He stole second base and moved to third on a 5-3 putout of Thomas.

Dale plated Paulinellie with a double, and it looked as if Punxsy might land another on a sharp single off Taylor's bat.

Dale hesitated rounding third, though, and the throw home narrowly beat him for the inning's second out.

A 4-3 putout of Byers ended the inning with I-Medical leading 10-5.

Indiana loaded the bases in the fourth on two singles and a walk but left them that way, and Punxsy went scoreless for the first time in the home half.

Indiana managed two baserunners in the fifth, with Snyder reaching on an E5 and Kromer walking with one out, but a Petro strikeout and a 6-3 putout got Byers out of the jam with the five-run lead still intact.

With the scoring momentum slowed to a halt, I-Medical also went down quickly in the fifth, as Dale was the only one to reach when he was hit by a pitch.

Indiana got a spark in the top of the sixth, with Shaffer reaching on a leadoff infield single, and it ignited the spark into an inferno, with the next four hitters reaching, as well.

Shields and Ream followed Shaffer with singles of their own to load the bases, and Schultz made it hurt, clearing the bases with a drive to deep right-center for a triple.

Schall narrowed the I-Medical lead to one with an RBI single, and Indiana turned to some small ball to tie things up.

Snyder laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, and with nobody covering third, Schall moved up two bases.

With one out, Kromer made the extra 90 feet hurt, driving a sacrifice fly to center to tie it.

Petro doubled to right-center to put the go-ahead run on base, chasing Byers for reliever Hickok.

Hickok got Jack to pop out to Blose in foul territory, but it was a brand-new game tied at 10 after five-and-a-half.

I-Medical showed no signs of buckling under the pressure, though, answering right back with a two-run sixth to take a 12-10 lead.

"(That inning) probably took a bit of wind out of our sails, but it was obvious that we responded well," coach Pennington said.

It began with a free pass when Dale took a high and tight pitch to his shoulder, and Pennington followed by driving a pitch to center, short-hopping the fence and putting two in scoring position.

Hickok sprinted home on a 5-3 putout off Blose's bat, and after entering the game for Pennington as a pinch runner, Ryan Jones crossed the dish on a wild pitch to push the cushion to two.

Asked after the game about the fact that every member of his team contributed to this championship series win, coach Pennington said it was a necessity with the quick turnover between series.

"We had to have everybody contribute," he said. "We played six games in seven days, and pitching can only go so far. The boys were tired; I know they were. It's been hot; we've played in 85- or 90-degree heat over the past week. But they pulled it together."

With the victory, Punxsy earned the top seed from the Indiana County League in the Sectional tournament, which Punxsy will host beginning July 28. Punxsy will also see some familiar faces, though, as S.W. Jack will be in the tournament, as well.