MLBB strong in all areas of the game, downs J'burg to stay alive

PUNXSUTAWNEY — It was an action-packed evening at the Groundhog Little League complex, with Punxsy hosting a pair of All-Star games Friday evening. And in the Minor League baseball game — the nine- and 10-year-old division — Punxsy gave the home fans something to cheer about, earning an 12-8 victory over Johnsonburg to advance in the losers' bracket and stay alive.

"We looked a little shaky at first," Punxsy head coach Brian Ishman said after the game. "But then, we started hitting the ball and making some plays in the field, and the kids settled down. We plated some runs, put Johnsonburg in the position to make some mistakes and capitalized on our speed."

It was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams scoring runs in four different innings, and Johnsonburg went down swinging with a two-run top of the sixth to make things interesting. But in the end, it was the home team which prevailed and advanced to play at DuBois Sunday at 4 p.m.

Johnsonburg came firing off the line with a two-run first inning to give it the lead.

Clay Zilkoski got things started with a double, and he advanced to third base on a groundout to shortstop Daren Byers.

A pair of walks by Punxsy starter Micah Kriebel — to Cameron Stelene and Garret Gregori — loaded the bases, but a great play by second baseman Zack VanLeer on a 4-2 fielder's choice nailed Stelene at home to keep the visitors off the board for the time being.

Unfortunately, though, the next hitter, Gino Gregori, drove a single to plate a pair of runs for his squad and give Johnsonburg the 2-0 lead.

A walk to Dalton Stahli loaded the bases, but a Kriebel K against Gabe Watts halted the damage at two runs.

Punxsy answered right back in the home half of the first, putting up a three-spot.

Kriebel got things rolling with an infield single, and after Zack Reitz popped up to the catcher for the first out, Daren Byers singled to put a pair on.

Derek Ishman reached on an error by the first baseman, and despite not picking up another hit, Punxsy used some aggressive baserunning to plate all three of its runs.

Andrew Young went down swinging, and Jackson Fezell grounded out on a come-backer to end the inning, but Punxsy had the 3-2 lead.

Johnsonburg tied it in the top of the second after Kriebel retired Isaac Zimmerman with another K to start the inning.

With one out, Zilkoski singled for his second hit of the game, and Stelene followed with a single of his own to put two on.

Gregori grounded into a fielder's choice, retiring the lead runner, but Green came through with a two-out RBI single to plate Stelene and tie the game.

Punxsy was set down in order on three straight pop-ups to the infield off the bats of VanLeer, Adison Neal and Carter Newcome to keep the score knotted at three after two.

Byers entered the game in relief of Kriebel, and despite allowing a pair of Johnsonburg baserunners, he managed to hang a zero for his squad.

Gregori started the inning with a single before Byers whiffed the next two — Stahli looking and Watts swinging.

Zimmerman reached base on a fielding blunder by Punxsy, advancing Gregori to third. And Gregori moved up to second on a passed ball, but both were stranded there when Byers retired Zilkoski for the first time in the game on a nice 3-1 putout.

Punxsy had a productive inning in the bottom of the third, bringing eight hitters to the dish and scoring four runs.

It started with one out when Reitz was hit by a pitch, and Byers followed with an RBI double to help his own cause and give Punxsy back its lead, 4-3.

Byers' aggressive nature at the plate continued, as he scored with Ishman at the plate, and Ishman walked to put another runner on base.

Young moved Ishman up with a sacrifice bunt, and pinch hitter Alec Greenblatt was hit by a pitch to put a pair on.

One run came in on a wild pitch, and another was plated on a well-placed double by VanLeer, right down the line in left, to push the score to 7-3.

Johnsonburg pulled back within one in the top of the fourth with three runs of its own, highlighted by a two-RBI double by Nick Bliss and another RBI knock by Gregori.

But Punxsy got right back to work in the home half, putting up another four on the scoreboard to match the third-inning total.

Kriebel got things rolling with his second hit of the game with one out before Reitz reached base safely for his second time on an E6.

Byers cleared the bases with a two-RBI triple — giving him three RBIs on the night — and he wound up scoring on a passed ball to give Punxsy a 10-6 advantage.

Punxsy wasn't quite done yet, though, as Ishman followed Byers' aggressive play with a double to reach base for his third time in the game, and after he was sacrificed to third by Young, he scored before Greenblatt popped out to short to end the inning.

Ishman came on to pitch to begin the fifth inning, and after walking the first hitter he faced, he retired the next three on a pair of Ks and an F1 popout.

Punxsy managed one insurance run in the bottom of the fifth to make the score 12-6 with the help of back-to-back singles by Graham McFarland — who came around to score — and Carter Newcome.

The inning ended on a bit of an odd note, with the ball hitting Kriebel as he was running in fair territory for the third out. But Punxsy's lead was set at five, giving it more than enough breathing room in the end.

Johnsonburg benefitted from three hits in the top of the sixth — all singles by Green, Bliss and Watts.

Bliss came around to score on an error, and Watts plated Gregori with a single with two outs.

But Ishman got Zimmerman to fly out to second for the final out to seal the win.

After the game, coach Ishman said he was pleased with all facets of the game, beginning with the pitching.

"Our pitching was solid," he said. "We came out and threw strikes, and we even managed a few strikeouts. All of these kids really stepped up, and we met the challenge. Now, we're ready for DuBois Sunday."