LEWISTOWN - John Michael Maclay went 2-for-2, knocking in three runs and propelling Mifflin County past Clarence 6-0 in its final and most critical regular-season American Legion baseball game on Wednesday night at Rec Park.
Issac Strohecker pitched a complete game shutout and scattered four hits while striking out five batters to earn the win that pushed Post 287 to the top-seed in the Central Penn League playoffs, which begin Friday. Not a single Mifflin County batter struck out in the game.
"It all starts with pitching and defense," Mifflin County manager Bernie Howard said. "You can win championships with that. Tonight was a perfect example of that. We got a complete game shutout from Issac Strohecker. He walked only two batters. He was in complete control."
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Mifflin County first baseman Drew Hannon moves in on a ball bunted by Clarence’s Tyler Schall while Post 287 pitcher Isaac Strohecker backs him up. The sacrifice advanced Drew Miller to third (on background) and another runner to second. Hannon made the throw to Max Remy at first for the out. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com
Neither Mifflin County nor Clarence could get anything going in the first inning.
Strohecker sat the visitors down in order and singled with two outs in the bottom half of the inning. Strohecker followed the hit with a steal of second base, but would go no further when Drew Hannon's line drive was snared in right field.
Post 287 took a lead in the bottom half of the second when Heath Hidlay started things and launched a two-out double down the right field line.
Maclay came up next and grounded a seeing-eye single to left to score Hidlay and make it 1-0.
Maclay stole second on the next pitch, and with his attention on Maclay the ball got by the Clarence catcher Tyler Schall and the Post 287 backstop when diving into third base safely.
Clarence starter Ryan Dyke got the following Mifflin County hitter, Kyle Bodtorf, on a fly out to left.
Strohecker kept the momentum going in the top half of the third, stranding runners on second and third when he fielded a grounder and threw to first.
Dyke got his counterpart on a ground ball to third base to strand Jacob Larson, who singled, ending Mifflin County's chance to tack on in the bottom half of the inning.
Hannon reached on a Clarence error to start the fourth and Shane Connahan singled to right to give Post 287 first and second with no outs to start the inning.
After a walk to Lucas McKay, Hidlay grounded into a fielder's choice to reset to bases loaded with one out.
Maclay struck again, for a two-run single to score Connahan and McKay and make it 3-0 Mifflin County.
"I'm just trying to put a ball in play," Maclay said. "There was only one out, so anything I could do to bring the run in."
Bodtorf followed with a two-run double to right, which Drew Miller struggled with, eliminating any chance to get Maclay at the plate.
"In the fourth inning, we had an excellent inning," Howard said. "Connahan got it started with a base hit, and they with the bases loaded, John Michael and Kyle Bodtorf came through with a single and double, respectively."
Strohecker went right back to work with the five-run cushion and pitched around a two-out single by Miller to keep the visitors scoreless.
"He got ahead," Maclay said of Strohecker. "He worked ahead of batters and it really opened up what we could call and where we could spot him up. He worked ahead really well."
The Mifflin County starter allowed a two-out single for the second straight inning, but again, he got no further as Strohecker kept Clarence scoreless through six.
Post 287 got runners on first and third with two outs in the bottom half of the inning, but Dyke ended the inning with an Isaac Maclay fly to center.
Strohecker allowed just a harmless one-out single in the seventh and finished off his shutout.
"I'm looking forward to getting started," Maclay said. "Just getting started in the playoffs and getting on the tournament trail."
Mifflin County finishes the regular season at 19-8 (11-3 CPL) and will begin the playoffs on Friday when it hosts Philipsburg.
"It puts us at home," Howard said of the significance of the top-seed. "It's a momentum thing as well. We talked all year about improving every day, every practice, every game. We couldn't have had a better game to end the regular season and head into the playoffs on. I think this is exactly the kind of baseball you want to see this team playing at this time."
Mifflin County's seed in the tournament was decided by the outcome of Wednesday's game. The win knotted Mifflin County with Beech Creek in total wins - the figure used for seeding - and the tie was broken in Post 287's favor due to more wins over league opponents. Had Clarence won, Mifflin County would have dropped to third, losing a tiebreaker with DuBois on head-to-head play.