MIFFLINTOWN - East Juniata visited its cross-county rival Thursday needing one win in its final three games to clinch a playoff spot.
Juniata would be happy just getting a win.
Despite little offense between the two, Juniata managed to plate five runs in the third inning, all it needed to send the Tigers home with a 5-2 outcome.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Juniata’s Dakota Zook connects on a pitch in the first inning against East Juniata Thursday in Mifflintown. The Indians beat the Tigers 5-2. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com.
Outside of a couple innings, it was a battle of defense, whether East Juniata's infield, or Juniata's pitcher. Dakota Zook, who went the distance for the Indians, struck out 11 batters in the effort, with the only jams he faced coming in the first and last innings.
The Tigers' breakdown in the third was fueled by three walks, which along with two errors allowed the home team to score five runs on just two hits - the last two Juniata would get in the game.
"We had a couple walks, I intentionally walked Zook to get away from him and put runners on first and second," East Juniata coach Tim Brubaker said. "Unfortunately we couldn't throw strikes and then we had a couple loose plays."
It was almost the opposite for Zook, whose first inning gave East Juniata a quick 2-0 lead before the first hit of the game was recorded.
"If he's not loose, he will struggle right away. Most games he's bounced back and thrown very well," Juniata coach Nick Beward said. "Tonight, he said, 'Don't worry about it, I was not loose. I'll show you.' And he did."
"He started throwing very well in the second inning and just kept pouring it past our guys," Brubaker said.
In that opening half, Zook walked the first two batters he faced, Nick Lorenz and Tyler Inch, then Kyle Pannebaker hit into a fielder's choice to push the first run across. Inch made it home on a wild pitch.
But Zook didn't walk another batter until the fifth, and that third free pass was his last. Neither of the two Tiger hits got anyone past first; in fact, only two other runners made it into scoring position before the game ended.
"If you have no hitting, you don't win ball games," Brubaker said.
Juniata started its comeback drive with one out in the third when Steven Zearfaus singled and advanced on an error, then Ross Cook hit an RBI double. Zook was given first to create force plays across the infield, then Skyler Welfley drew a walk to load the bases.
Another walk, to Dustin Burd, sent Cook home and Zook crossed on a wild pitch. An untimely error in the infield when Colton Shertzer put the ball in play delivered the final two runs.
"I've told these guys all year long, 'You need to capitalize on their mistakes,'" Beward said. "Finally we're starting to."
With their backs against the wall, the Tigers got a good start in the final turn when Garrett Kauffman outran a throw from short for a base hit to open the seventh. He was caught when Tanner Truitt hit into a fielder's choice, but Christian Searer, running for Truitt, got to third on an error.
But Dillon Leonard hit a fly ball for the second out and Welfley got the ball back to Zook to tag Searer trying to score on a wild pitch, ending the game.
Juniata (5-12) faces Mifflin County, which it fell to by just one run in their first meeting, today.
"We're happy with five wins right now," Beward said. "Do we want more? Sure we do."
East Juniata (9-7) hosts Tri-Valley League leader Upper Dauphin, and must win that one or its finale against Line Mountain to qualify in District 4.
"We've got a tough next two games," Brubaker said. "We've got to turn it around, come out tomorrow night and get our focus back into hitting the ball and playing good defense."