LLBB Stars, quickly back into form, come out firing against Brockway

PUNXSUTAWNEY — With a team returning 11 of the 13 members from last year's 10- and 11-year-old District X Little League baseball All-Star Champions, Punxsy wasted no time getting back into the swing of things Tuesday in the opening round of this year's 11- and 12-year-old tournament with a 12-2, four-inning victory over Brockway on home turf.

After the game, Punxsy head coach Brad Gigliotti struggled to come up with anything his team needed to improve on in the one day of practice it has before taking to the road Thursday against St. Marys in the second round of the winners' bracket.

"It was great to see (us play so well)," he said. "I'm hoping we pick up right back where we left off last year. I told the boys this was Game One toward our goal of winning the district again. ... I couldn't really pick anything out that we did wrong today. It just seemed like the balls were falling in, and I thought it was a good game for us."

Punxsy received a solid pitching outing from a three-man arsenal, a strategy most teams are forced to use in the All-Star tournaments to keep arms available down the line, as pitch counts limit the amount of work a pitcher can get and the number of days he must take off between outings.

Tyler Richardson got the starting nod, and despite some control issues in the first inning running his count up, he managed to allow just one run on one hit and earn four strikeouts in 1 1/3-innings and earn credit for the win.

Matt Blose came on next for Punxsy part way through the second inning, with Richardson nearing his pitch limit to keep him available beyond today, and Blose pitched two full shutout innings, allowing one walk and two hits and striking out four.

In the fourth inning, Matt Greenblatt came on to close things out and earned the final two outs before Punxsy scored the run that pushed it over the 10-run barrier for the mercy rule in the bottom of the fourth.

"It's tough at first (for these pitchers)," Gigliotti said. "You could tell all three of them took two or three batters to get into the swing of things, but they worked out of some jams. Mostly, it comes down to pitch count. I mean, we have another game coming up on Thursday, so we knew we had to keep an eye on that."

Despite not allowing a hit in the first inning and striking out all three hitters he retired, Richardson did load the bases for Brockway on a pair of walks and a hit batsman.

Leadoff hitter Gage Lyons struck out for the first out, but the next two hitters reached on a walk to Cameron Baka and a hit batsman to Carter Adams.

Jesse Johnson, Brockway's cleanup hitter, struck out for the second out of the inning, but Richardson loaded the bags with a two-out walk to JD Wood.

Richardson worked out of the jam, though, by getting Garret McClintock swinging to retire the side.

Punxsy wasted no time jumping on top of the visiting team, with the first four hitters who came to the plate scoring in a five-run inning during which Punxsy batted around.

Leadoff hitter Brandon Matthews gave Punxsy a 1-0 lead with one swing of the bat, driving a fastball out of the park on a line drive shot that wasted no time clearing the left field fence.

After Matthews' teammates mobbed him at home plate, Blose stepped into the batter's box and displayed some patience, taking a walk.

Richardson helped his own cause with a single to left field to move Blose up to third, and Richardson quickly stole second to put a pair in scoring position for cleanup hitter Gigliotti.

And Gigliotti delivered with a two-RBI single that made chalk fly right down the third base line to plate both Richardson and Blose and extend Punxsy's lead to three runs.

Brockway starter Wood got Greenblatt to strike out for the inning's first out, but Punxsy's offense wasn't done yet, with Zander Neal driving a double to the left-center field fence to put runners on second and third.

Gigliotti came in to score on an RBI groundout by Colton Roken for the second out, and after it appeared as if Wood had managed to earn the third out on a strikeout, Kevin Constant reached safely on a passed ball on a swinging third strike, a play that also allowed Neal to score Punxsy's fifth run.

Brockway had better luck on a strikeout of Tyler Getch, when Angelo Inzana threw down to first to retire Getch on a 2-3 putout after the third strike was in the dirt.

In the top of the second, Noah Dukes led things off with a home run that got out of the park just as fast as Matthews' did and to just about the same spot, making the game 5-1 Punxsy.

Richardson bounced back to strike out Zack Foradori for his fourth K, and Blose came in to replace him at that point.

Blose picked up a quick out on a come-backer that ended up a 1-3 putout, and after a two-out single by Lyons, Blose got Baka to ground out to short to end the inning.

Punxsy almost doubled up in the home half of the fourth, bringing eight batters to the plate and scoring four runs on two hits and four walks off relief pitcher Baka.

Matthews got it going again with a double, this time driving a pitch the opposite way to the right-center field gap, and Blose took his second walk of the game to put a pair of runners on.

Richardson grounded into a fielder's choice, retiring Blose at second, and Punxsy had runners on the corners with one out.

Richardson stole second base uncontested, but was called back to the bag for leaving early, and when he took off the second time, Brockway threw down to get him. Richardson slid safely into second, and Matthews sprinted home to make it 6-1 Punxsy on the double steal.

Gigliotti and pinch hitter Cameron Coble each walked to load the bases before Baka picked up the second strikeout by getting Lucas Deet.

But with two outs, Punxsy managed to push three more runners across, and it all started with an RBI walk to Carl Medsger, who was pinch-hitting for Roken.

The walk came at the hands of Lyons, who had entered to pitch with the count full to keep Baka from exceeding his maximum number of pitches.

After that, Johnny Serian came to the plate as the final Punxsy player to hit, and he drove a high chopper down the third base line that skipped all the way to the fence for a two-RBI double. Medsger was waved around third to try to make it a bases-clearing double, but the relay made it home just in time to retire him for the third out of the inning, and Punxsy's lead was capped at 9-1.

Blose allowed two baserunners in the third, a one-out single by Johnson and a walk to Wood, but managed to strike out the other three hitters he faced to keep his opponents scoreless with him on the mound, and Punxsy added two more in the home half of the third to go up 11-1.

Getch led off the third with a single to center field, and he advanced to second base on an overthrow from the center fielder back into second. Matthews had another productive at-bat, and although it went down as an F9, it allowed Getch to move up 60 feet to third base when he tagged up.

Blose finally saw a pitch in the strike zone after taking walks in his first two at-bats, and he drove the strike down the right field line for an RBI double.

Richardson hit a sharp single to left, but Blose was forced to stop at third as the ball made it there so quickly, and Richardson stole second uncontested to put a pair in scoring position again for Gigliotti.

On a wild pitch to the backstop, Blose was caught trying to sneak home on a nice toss to Lyons by Inzana, but with two outs, Gigliotti walked, and Greenblatt — having re-entered for Coble — connected on an RBI double to right-center to put Punxsy up 10.

Entering the top of the fourth, Brockway needed a run to keep the game going without falling via the 10-run rule, and it got just that — one run on a hit, a hit batsman and an error.

Blose struck out pinch hitter Matt Clark to start the inning, and Greenblatt entered the game for Blose on the mound.

Greenblatt struck out the first hitter he faced — Inzana — but when the ball skipped past the catcher, Inzana scampered down to first to reach on an error.

Lyons was hit by a pitch in the next at-bat, putting a pair on, and after a Baka strikeout, Adams came through with the clutch hit his team needed — an RBI single to center field to cut the lead to nine.

Greenblatt got Johnson to strike out looking to pick up his third K in the 2/3-innings he worked, and Punxsy came to the plate needing just one run to end it.

Roken re-entered to hit in the fourth and laced one toward first, but Johnson scooped it and took care of it himself for the first out of the inning.

After that, Serian was barely brushed by an inside pitch to reach base, and with a new pitcher entering, in Johnson, Constant took Serian's place as a special pinch runner.

Getch moved Constant to second base on a groundout to third base, and with two outs, Matthews completed a successful day at the dish with another double to right-center, plating Constant and ending the game courtesy of the 10-run rule.

While coach Gigliotti didn't know exactly who Punxsy would play Thursday — as he was still awaiting the result of the Johnsonburg-St. Marys game — he did say that no matter which team it faced, Punxsy knew it would have its work cut out for it.

"From what I've heard, both teams are tough," he said. "We played St. Marys twice last year, and we know what they can do. And we know that Johnsonburg is always tough."