MILTON - Down to their final chance, the Juniata County Little League 10-11-year-old baseball all-stars were in deep trouble. Still, they were not about to fold.
With bats blazing, Juniata County managed to slice a six-run Shamokin-Mount Carmel lead in half and had the tying run at the plate.
"The kids had their rally hats inside out," Juniata coach Casey Harper said. "It was exciting. We were going to catch them."
Sentinel photo by FRANK?DIMON
Juniata shortstop Bryce Leonard, left, and Shamokin-Mount Carmel’s Matt Grabowski look to the umpire after a second inning steal attempt during the Pennsylvania Little League District 13 10-11-year-old elimination final at Milton on Thursday. Grabowski was safe on the play and Shamokin-Mount Carmel held on for a 6-3 win.
What might have been a memorable comeback, however, was doused by a called third strike on a pitch that was clearly well outside the zone. Surviving an intense 6-3 victory on Thursday evening at Milton's Mary F. Byers Complex, Shamokin-Mount Carmel eliminated Juniata County just one game shy of the District 13 championship final.
Despite the bad call, Juniata County chose to end its run in the 13-team tournament with tears and dignity.
"These are wonderful kids and we had a lot of high moments," Harper said.
Including Thursday's magical revival.
It had been a shaky start. Jacob Carpenter's home run in the top of the third gave SMC a 6-0 cushion. That's when the pendulum started swinging back toward JC.
Called to the mound in relief, Trent Walls hurled three and two-thirds innings of shutout ball, notching four strikeouts.
"I was just trying to stay relaxed and make them swing," Walls said, who also hit two singles for JC. "We have a really good defense."
That's for certain. Left fielder Payne Shirk made a brilliant running catch in the top of the first and the JC infield handled numerous chances without error.
Three outs from elimination, Shirk opened the bottom of the sixth with a single and Bryce Leonard - who had already logged a pair of hits only to be stranded in scoring position - followed with a walk. With one down, Ryan Zook singled to score Shirk and Zeb Ames smashed a two-run triple.
"That triple was big," Harper said. "We were pumped."
But the high drama would end with Ames at third and Logan Ewell on first. In all, JC stranded runners in scoring position on four different occasions. In the third, Walls and Levi Harper smacked back-to-back singles, but that threat ended when a solid fly to left by Shirk was nabbed.
From the original 13 teams, the district field has now been cut to just Shamokin-Mount Carmel and Berwick. They will meet on Saturday with Berwick, needing only one win to advance.