HYDE – Flawless defense and three big blows that highlighted a pair of five-run outbursts were the difference as Punxsutawney ended Clearfield’s season in the District 9 Class AAA baseball semifinal Wednesday.
The Chucks negated the Bisons’ home-field advantage by making all the plays in the field, including a critical double play, at the sun-splashed Bison Sports Complex.
The second-seeded Bisons, on the other hand, were guilty of several miscues that resulted in six unearned runs.
Those gift tallies loomed large in the 12-8 shootout that featured a grand slam home run by Tyler Wingard, a two-run homer by Jordan Mesoraco and a clutch two-run single by Zak Dickey for Punxsy (10-9).
“We commented the last couple practices how good our defense looked, but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” Clearfield coach Sid Lansberry said.
The first Bison error gave the Chucks their first run after Mesoraco had rifled a one-out double to straightaway center.
Chad Zurat then nicked Tyler Skerkavich and Dane Kopas to load the bases for Wingard, who jumped on a 1-2 curve and deposited it just beyond the fence in left center.
Clearfield had shown a penchant for coming behind all season and, aided by Punxsy southpaw ace Braedon Pennington’s control problems, didn’t disappoint the hometown fans.
Pennington never seemed to get comfortable on the Bison Sports Complex mound, going to three-ball counts on five of the first six batters. He walked four, Zurat’s free pass forcing in a run.
He escaped further damage with two strikeouts, a sign of things to come for the Bisons as they stranded 12 runners and always seemed a hit or two away from having a big rally instead of settling for a run or two in all but one inning.
They did cash Matt Lonjin’s leadoff, high-fly double to the fence in left and Pennington’s fifth walk in the second frame. Justin Hoffman and Andrew Redden picked up the RBIs with a groundout and a single, respectively.
With one down in the third, Zurat drilled Pennington in the ribs with a wicked liner that ended the Punxsy standout’s day.
Joe Pisano, a junior right-hander, relieved and surrendered two-out singles to Lonjin, Jacobson and Jarrett Fulmer that pulled the Bisons to within one run, 6-5.
The Chucks responded by chasing Zurat in the fourth. Kyle Neal beat out a slow roller to short and Mesoraco launched a homer to right center for his first home run of the season. With two outs and two on, a Bison misplay gave the visitors another run, and Dickey drove in two more unearned tallies with a line single to right center.
Zurat, who had won his first five decisions, exited after his fifth hit batsman.
“We got flustered a little bit, and I think he was trying to throw too hard,” Lansberry said. “They hit the ball well. They hit some shots off Chad. But, still, a couple innings he could have been out of.”
Jacobson, who had been sidelined for more than week with a sore knee, relieved and allowed only four hits and one unearned run over the last 3-1/3 innings.
“That definitely affected our whole strategy,” Lansberry said. “We were still gonna start Chad, but I think we would have brought Jacobson in maybe a little bit earlier had we known he was gonna be okay. But he hadn’t done anything.
“He did a pretty decent job in relief.”
Trailing 12-5, the Bisons tagged Pisano for four sharp singles in a row to start the lower fourth, utilityman Luke Peterson ramming one through the right side for the first hit and RBI of his senior season before Zurat loaded the bases with his second hit.
Pisano wiggled off the hook, though, when he turned pinch-hitter Isaac Butler’s one-hopper into a forceout at the plate and then got Lonjin to ground into a twinkilling.
“That was a key play right there,” Lansberry said. “We got in a hole early, and that’s tough. But we were coming back.”
The teams matched singletons in the fifth, the Bisons on Jacobson’s double to left and Redden’s line single to left.
Clearfield tacked on a run in the seventh on Derek Danver’s double to deep right following a pair of walks.
Pisano left the tying run on deck with his fourth strikeout to notch his third win without a loss.
Redden, a junior, had three singles for his 11th multi-hit game of the season, raising his average to .477.
Danver, Zurat, Lonjin and Jacobson had two hits apiece for the Bisons, who out-hit the Chucks 13-10.
“I’ve got to credit the kids, they kept battling back,” Lansberry said.
The Bisons fell to 9-10 in Lansberry’s 39th season at his alma mater.
“I told them out there, when the season started, not many people expected us to win nine games and be in this position to be in the playoffs,” he said. “We beat some good teams, DuBois, State College, Punxsy, Hollidaysburg.”
He noted Jacobson’s absence left the Bisons without their top two starters down the stretch because No. 1 Trevor Flanagan (back) went the injured list May 11.
“You’ve got to try to fill in and make do with different pitchers, so it was tough,” Lansberry said. “Overall, I have to be pleased that we won nine games after losing seven starters and the top three pitchers from last year.”
Zurat, Lonjin, Hoffman, Peterson, Butler, Garrett Samsel and Wil Beauseigneur are the 2010 seniors.
“It’s a good group,” Lansberry said. “They’ll be missed.”
No. 1 seed St. Marys (11-7) stands in the way of Punxsy’s seventh consecutive 9-AAA title. They’ll meet next week at a neutral site to be announced.
PUNXSUTAWNEY – 12
Kyle Neal 2b 4220, Jordan Mesoraco c-rf 4222, Braedon Pennington p 1100, Easton Renwick rf 1000, Dom Bevak ph-c 2000, Tyler Skerkavich 1b 3101, Dane Kopas 4320, Tyler Wingard 3b 3214, Brodi Lowmaster cf 0000, Joe Pisano dh-p 5111, Dylan Kachmar lf 3000, Devan Neal ph 1010, Zak Dickey ss 5012. TOTALS: 36 12 10 10.
CLEARFIELD – 8
Jarrett Fulmer 2b 3211, Justin Hoffman rf 4001, Andrew Redden 1b 4132, Derek Danver ss 4021, Garrett Samsel lf 3000, Luke Peterson 3b 2011, Chad Zurat p-cf 2121, Shane Harper cf-lf 0000, Curtis Frye dh 2000, Isaac Butler ph 1000, Steve Miller ph 1000, Matt Lonjin c 4220, Tyler Jacobson 3b-p 3221. TOTALS: 33 8 13 8.
Score by Innings
Punxsutawney 510 510 0 – 12 10 0
Clearfield 122 110 1 – 8 13 6
Errors – Danver 3, Peterson, Jacobson 2. DP – Punxsutawney 1 (Dickey, K. Neal and Skerkavich). LOB – Punxsutawney 12; Clearfield 12. 2B – Mesoraco, Kopas; Danver, Lonjin, Jacobson. HR – Mesoraco (1), Wingard (6). SF – Skerkavich. SB – Wingard, Dickey, Taylor Neal.
Punxsutawney – Pennington 2-1/3 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 3 K; Pisano 4-2/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K.
Clearfield – Zurat 3-2/3 IP, 6 H, 11 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 K; Jacobson 3-1/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K.
HB – Zurat 5 (K. Neal, Mesoraco, Skerkavich, Kopas, Kachmar). WP – Pennington 1; Pisano 1; Zurat 1, Jacobson 1.
W – Pisano (3-0). L – Zurat (5-1).
Umpires – Glen Fiebig (plate), Rob Murphy (first), Bob Boyer (second), Tom Lorenzo (third).