STATE COLLEGE - Sometimes a team will take a loss by the final score, but it won't necessarily take a loss in spirit.
That's what happened Monday evening as the Big Valley Little League all-stars fell to State College National, 7-2, in the District 5 10-11-year-old championship game.
The last time Big Valley faced State College National it lost 20-1, so Big Valley coach Mike Bickhart was pleased with how much more competitive his team was this time around.
Sentinel photo by STEVE?MANUEL
Big Valley catcher John Hurlburt, left, tries to tag State College runner David Shoemaker (3) during Monday’s Little League District 5 10-11 championship game in State College. Shoemaker was ruled safe on the play.
"We played much better defense than we did the other night. The other night they put 20 runs up on us - 11 in the first - so we were much better as a team tonight," Bickhart said.
State College National struck early again Monday, scoring one run in the first and four in the second, but after that early streak Big Valley's defense clamped down and only allowed two more runs for the remainder of the game.
An especially noteworthy defensive play occurred in the bottom of the fifth. With two outs and a runner in scoring position, State College National's Jaret Beyer struck a line drive hard down the first base line, but Big Valley's Conner Yoder stayed on top of the ball to get the out at first, successfully ending the inning and preventing State College National from extending its lead.
Although the score didn't reflect it, in addition to a strong defensive game, Big Valley also had a good showing at the plate. Bickhart certainly was pleased with his team's offensive play.
"I think we only had a few strikeouts the whole night," Bickhart said. "We put the ball in play, and State College had some really good plays out there."
And Bickhart was right - his team was hitting the ball, the batters just couldn't seem to find any holes. In the third and fourth innings Big Valley hitters kept State College National's defense busy by sending several balls deep into the outfield. They just couldn't get any to drop so as to get runners on base.
Then in the fifth, Big Valley's efforts finally resulted in two runs. However, these runs didn't come from the long ball, but through patience at the plate and aggressive base running.
The inning started when John Rutherford got on base with a single. While his teammate Matt Harshbarger was at the plate, Rutherford made it to third by first stealing second and then on a later play third base. Harshbarger went down swinging, but the next batter, Ty Narehood, put the ball in play and got thrown out at first. Still, he got the RBI by bringing in Rutherford.
On the next play, Noah Knepp reached first on an error and eventually made it around the bases, which were loaded on a walk issued to Yoder and a John Hurlburt base hit. Braden Kibe drew a walk to plate Big Valley's second and final run for the game.
In the end, although Big Valley didn't get to walk away as the District 5 champion, Bickhart was very pleased with the way his team played.
"All the coaches were really proud of the boys tonight," Bickhart said. "They played really hard."