NORTHUMBERLAND - Juniata's turnout in the Little League 9-10 age group was so strong that the county fielded two teams in the District 13 tournament, dividing along east-west lines similar to the two high schools in the county.
And the two fell into the Area II bracket such that, unless one team was winning and the other losing, they were destined to meet early in the tournament.
That meeting came Wednesday in an elimination bracket game at Shik-Acorn Field in Northumberland. And if a big first inning wasn't enough of a statement, Juniata West plated 11 runs in the third, advancing in the tournament on an 18-5 margin in four innings.
West manager Wade Druckemiller admitted it was not the easiest game to win - off the field.
"Kids from your hometown, to be the one to knock them out, that's hard," he said. "But that's part of the game. I warned all my kids to come to play ball, because I knew they were going to."
The West will be back in action at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the same field, facing the loser of a semifinal between Mifflinburg and Warrior Run, which will be played today. The season ends for the East.
The decisive third inning - Juniata West already was leading 5-0 - saw half of the damage come with two outs showing on the scoreboard. Only two of the 11 runs scored before the first out - Ty Martin, who reached on an error to lead off the inning, was walked home, then Jaime Bailer, who singled, made it on a wild pitch.
After the first out, Caleb Bargo bashed a two-run triple to center field, then scored on a Will Orwig base hit. With two down and a 10-0 score, the end was in sight for Juniata East - but proved to be a lot further down the road than expected.
Martin singled on his second at bat of the inning, an accidental bunt that caught the East by surprise - not to mention the West - but two runs were in nonetheless. Three walks in a row with bases loaded all but put it out of reach; Orwig got his second RBI single of the frame to make it 16-0.
"I know they can hit. It is a hitting team," Druckemiller said. "The first game we had nerves - we were down 8-1 in the third inning because none of them were hitting. But they came around and tied up (that) game."
The West also batted around in the first, but it was more paced, and only five runs got in. Mason Druckemiller and Devon Nealman both had RBI singles; Nealman scored when Martin hit into an error, then crossed on a fielder's choice by Jared Hutchinson. Paul Ames plated Hutchinson on a hard grounder to short.
But in the bottom, the East's Nathan Barnhart got caught on the back half of a double steal attempt and Orwig, the winner on the mound, got a strikeout looking before a routine fly moved the game to the second.
"That big first inning helped them," East manager Justin Austin said. "We got behind, and just never came back around and scored runs for ourselves."
Two more unearned runs for the West put their cross-county rival in a difficult position in the bottom of the fourth, where nothing less than nine runs would extend the contest.
The East got halfway there.
This time it was the West giving up two runs on RBI walks, then Barnhart drilled a two-run double to plate two more runs. A hit batter loaded the bags right back up for Cody Heintzelman, who hit into an error that scored a run. But that's as far as it got.
"In the end we almost came back," Austin said. "We had them. We had them right where we needed them. We needed a good hit at the right time."