MIFFLINBURG - Juniata County's 10-11 Little League all-star team has had two close shaves in the District 13 Area II bracket, and drew a rematch with opening-round opponent Snyder County in the consolation bracket final Saturday.
One team was guaranteed to see its season end before dinner time, and neither was giving anything up for the first two innings. But the team from Juniata County staked a 4-0 lead in the top of the third and held their neighbors to the north to just one run in the same inning on the way to a full-length, 15-1 victory.
Juniata County will play Mifflinburg - a rematch from the second championship round - today, and must beat the tournament host twice to advance into the district round. The 10-11 squad from Snyder County was the last standing from its league in all of District 13 - which is also true of Juniata County.
Sentinel photo by JEFF?FISHBEIN
Juniata’s Caleb Bargo, right, slides safely into third base on a wild pitch as the ball gets away from Snyder County’s Brandon Hartley Saturday in Mifflinburg.
Juniata County had runners aboard in each of the first two frames - all on walks - but despite getting two to third, Snyder County kept the visitors in check with strong pitching by Marc Piccioni, who struck out four in those two frames - and seven overall - while making the other two outs defensively as well.
Snyder County had the only hit of the first two innings, a Logan Snook single, but had only one runner in scoring position before the pivotal third.
"They were in it the first two innings - they played good the first two innings," Snyder County manager Mike Hartley said of his team.
But in the third, an RBI double by Jamie Bailer and a two-run single by Garett Kint - combined with a couple Snyder County errors, a hit batter and a pair of wild pitches - helped Juniata County score the first four runs of the game.
"We hit. We hit a lot better than we've been," Juniata County manager Wade Druckemiller said. "The biggest thing is, nerves are a lot different now. They're calming down."
Piccioni cut the lead by a run in the bottom, drawing a walk, stealing second then crossing the plate on a Brandon Hartley double. But Juniata reliever Nathan Berry struck out two at the end of the inning to strand Snyder County with full bags.
Snyder County's next best chance to add a run came in the fifth, when Kameron Kline and Jimmy McAuley had back-to-back singles. But Kline, after stealing third successfully, got caught between there and home and Caleb Bargo made the tag for Juniata.
"It was tough. Too many mental mistakes," Mike Hartley said.
"We made a heck of a play at home plate, too," Druckemiller said of the Kline pick off.
Juniata scored three more in the fourth with just one hit, a single, and added two in the fifth, again with just a base hit.
If there was any hope for Snyder County, it was surely dashed by the top of the sixth inning, when three base hits, a Bargo double and a Bailer triple tacked six more runs on the scoreboard.
"Actually we can hit better. But I can't complain," Druckemiller joked.
He said the next two games - if there are two - will require his team to get around its pitching shortage after using three hurlers Saturday, and not making the mistakes it did in the earlier meeting with Mifflinburg, a 9-8 loss that followed the earlier 9-7 win over Snyder County.
"If we'd played the first two innings, (Mifflinburg) wouldn't have won the first time," he said. We left a runner on second and third in the first inning with no outs. We left runners on first and second in the second inning with no outs."
"Yes, that's the biggest thing," he said. "I still have Jamie and Devon (Nealman) both for a full game Monday night. I won't have Nathan. We have to win Monday night though first."