HYDE — The final game of the regular season for two local schools came against one another, as the Curwensville Golden Tide made the short trip up the road to face off with the Clearfield Bison. The visitors were coming off a double-header triumph one day earlier, while the home squad still were lingering from Monday’s loss that saw 43 runs scored, and lasted well into the evening.
Fans on both sides of the baseball diamond were in for a treat as each team were playing with desire, heart, and passion. So much so, seven innings was not enough to decide it. The game would go the distance of a game more suited for the Altoona Curve, and it was Clearfield that took home a 5-4 victory in walk-off fashion.
“That was a great high-school baseball game,” Curwensville head coach Tom Harzinski said afterwards. “Both teams battled hard, and in these games one team was going to be sad when it ended. I told our team this game does not define us, because we didn’t quit.”
Curwensville got it going right away in the top of the first inning when Jake Mullins landed an infield single. After a sacrifice bunt, Shane Sunderlin connected on a 3-1 pitch by Bison starter Ryan Gearhart all the way to center field. It was deep enough to give Sunderlin an RBI-double, and got the scoring going for the Tide. Spencer Hoover added in an RBI-single two batters later, giving the Tide a 2-0 lead to start the afternoon.
The Bison got one run back in dramatic fashion, as a two-out rally plated Ryan Gearhart to make it 2-1.
The Tide added a pair of runs in the third when Thad Butler connected on a full-count grounder into center field, resulting in a two-RBI single to make it 4-1.
Clearfield coaches then decided it was time to make a swap as starting pitcher Gearhart and shortstop Kyle Elensky swapped positions after two outs in the inning.
Elensky got the final out, and then in the fifth Clearfield cut the lead in half with an RBI-single from Morgen Billotte. But, the Bison then struggled to get any closer. One inning earlier, the Bison had the bases loaded and one out on the board, with Mike Fester set to bat. He would strike out looking. Hunter Rumsky then suffered the same fate. Two runners left on base, both with a chance to tie the game.
Clearfield got a run back in the fifth with an RBI-single from Billotte, but then experienced a case of deja vu.
Billotte would move to second on a wild pitch. After three balls were tossed to Blake Prestash, he would be intentionally walked. Both runners moved a base on yet another wild pitch, but in a case of “same song, different verse,” Cole Bloom and Gearhart each suffered their own strikeouts when looking at the third strike called by the umpire.
It would not be until the seventh inning when the Bison got a chance to dig deep.
Already facing relief pitcher Sunderlin, as Mullins completed the fifth inning but was pulled due to the pitch count, Nolan Barr would single to start the inning. Then Billotte ignited the Bison dugout when he lit up a 1-1 pitch to deep center field. It brought Barr home to make it 4-3, and Billotte made it all the way to third with a triple.
Sunderlin struck Prestash on the side of the ribs to put runners on the corners, then intentionally walked Bloom to load the bases. The risk involved was a chance a run would make it to the plate, and that was the case when Gearhart soared a sacrifice fly to right field. Billotte would make his way home, and all of a sudden the game would be tied. A fly out to right and a line out to first ended the inning, and it also meant extra baseball was on the docket.
That is when Elensky buckled down and showed how strong a pitcher he was. Despite an error to start the inning, Elensky and his teammates put down the next three batters in the eighth.
Clearfield had another opportunity to get runners to the bag in the bottom of the inning. Rumsky singled up the left field line, then a sacrifice bunt by Elensky moved him to second. After a ground out, Curwensville pulled a rarity in baseball. Not only did they intentionally walk Billotte, who at that point was 3-for-4 batting with two RBI’s, but they also walked Prestash, who has been the heavy hitter for the Bison all season. With the bases loaded, Sunderlin would get out of the jam with a fly out to center field, and now meant yet another inning to decide the game.
Elensky got the job done in the top of the ninth with the help of his teammates to keep the score knotted at four-runs all. The bottom of the ninth had both sides of fans eager to see what would take place.
Gearhart started the inning with a fly out, but then Troxell took a full-count walk to put the winning run on base. Fester then popped out to short for the second out, but Rumsky followed with his own walk, putting runners on first and second.
Elensky was next at bat, and did not have the greatest stats at that point, going just 1-for-4 with a run. He stepped up to the plate and both sides were anxious for him that he paused and stepped away from the box to catch his breath, and also calm himself down. Once back in the box, he looked at Sunderlin, and the first pitch he saw was all he needed.
A swing of the bat and he nailed the ball to right-center field, and when it hit the ground, Troxell hustled around from second, tagging home plate and ending the afternoon in dramatic fashion. Elensky not only had the walk-off hit on the afternoon, but also got credited with the victory with a six and two-thirds inning effort, striking out five and walking none. Sunderlin got tagged with the loss, going three and two-thirds innings with no strikeouts, but walking five.
Clearfield head coach Sid Lansberry praised his team with their effort to come from behind, but was quick to point out the team in the opposing dugout was stacked with talent.
“That team right there, Tom and all those coaches, have worked with them for so long, whether during the summer, fall ball, all the way up until the season started, you can tell how good that team is,” Lansberry said. “Tom and I have been good friends for a long time, and I told him that’s the best team I’ve seen from him in a long while. I think they have a chance to go deep into the playoffs, might even win District IX.”
Clearfield finishes the season 9-11, but could potentially be in the playoffs depending on seeding and records.
Meanwhile, Curwensville’s regular season finishes at 14-5, the best season the Tide have experienced in several years. They now await their playoff seeding, which will be released later in the week. Opponent, time, date and location all are to be determined.
SCORE BY INNING
Curwensville 202 000 000 – 4 12 0
Clearfield 010 010 201 – 5 13 1
Curwensville – 4
Jake Mullins-P/SS 5110, Logan Kunkle-LF 3110, Josh Shaffer-PH/1B 1000, Shane Sunderlin-1B/P 5231, Thad Butler-SS 4022, Spencer Hoover-C 4031, Ayden Sutika-3B 3000, Jayson Rowles-RF 4000, Tyler Lee-2B 4000, Chris Fegert-CF 4020. TOTALS 37 4 12 4.
Clearfield – 5
Kyle Elensky-SS/P 5131, Nolan Barr-2B 5110, Morgen Billotte-CF 4132, Blake Prestash-1B 2000, Cole Bloom-C 3010, Ryan Gearhart-P/SS 4111, Ty Troxell-RF 2010, Kam Kushner-CR 0000, Elijah Quick-PH 1100, Mike Fester-3B 4000, Hayden Bumbarger-PH 1010, Hunter Rumsky-DH 4021. TOTALS 35 5 13 5.
- LOB: 8/13
- E: Fester
- ROE: Mullins
- 2B: Sunderlin-2/Elensky
- 3B: Billotte
- SAC: Sutika, Kunkle/Elensky
- SF: Gearhart
- FC: Sutika/Gearhart, Rumsky
- SB: Fegert, Butler, Mullins
- HBP: Prestash
- DP: Fester
Curwensville: Mullins-5 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 7 SO, 3 BB; Sunderlin-3.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 SO, 5 BB.
Clearfield: Gearhart-2.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 SO, 0 BB; Elensky-6.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 SO, 0 BB.