Kearns controls Patriots; Huskies win

LEWISTOWN – Following a one-run win at Central Mountain Monday, the Mifflin County baseball team looked to knock off Mid-Penn Commonwealth top dog Red Land Tuesday. Mifflin County smashed 12 hits and got an impressive outing from freshman Isaiah Kearns and slid past the Patriots, 13-7.

With an attempt to keep the Patriots off balance, crafty left-handed pitcher Doug Harshbarger took the mound for the Huskies. Red Land foiled the plan, though by staying back and through the baseball, chasing Harshbarger after plating four runs in just two-thirds of an inning

“My original expectation was bringing (Harshbarger) in to keep them offspeed, get some ground balls and pop flies,” Mifflin County coach Travis Zook said. “He was throwing strikes and getting ground balls but they were (hit) everywhere we weren’t.”

In stepped Kearns to take on the top team in the Commonwealth division in his first varsity appearance.

Kearns looked unflappable on the mound, like he had been there before. He induced a flyout to end the threat in the first then worked his way through the second, surrendering just one run and two the remainder of the day. Kearns tossed 15 first-pitch strikes to the 27 batters he faced while allowing six hits over his 6 1/3 innings of work. For Zook, the performance was a pleasant surprise.

“We knew (Kearns) was good,” Zook said. “To be honest, that’s the first time I saw him throw in a game – I saw him throw some bullpens.”

Kearns kept the ball down and mixed his pitches well, elevating the ball when he needed and getting the Patriots out in front with his changeup and curveball.

“As the game went on he mixed in the curveball a little better,” Zook said. “With a team like that – when he first went in there – he saw that if you elevate the ball this level of hitter is going to make you pay.”

Down 4-1 heading to the third, the Huskies’ Gage Reeseman stepped to the plate and slapped a leadoff double. Following a flyout, second baseman Evan Pupo plated Reeseman with his one-out single. Lucas McKay stepped to the plate after Drew Hannon went down looking and chipped in with a RBI double to keep the inning alive. The Huskies continued to battle with two outs and chased Red Land’s main man Kyle Searfoss after just two-and-two-thirds.

Zook attributes the run production to the team’s mentality and energy.

“They were up in the dugout a little bit, cheering and having fun,” he said. “We got a little bit of life going – it all starts with energy in the dugout and in the field.”

Red Land reliever Matt Shope got out of the inning but not before a bases-clearing double by designated hitter Hayden Snook. The double was Snook’s second hit of the day and the lefty wasn’t finished there. He would later chip in two more hits on his way to a 4-for-4 day with five RBIs.

Pitchers can tighten up when their teams breakout offensively and after the long home half of the third, Kearns might have. In need of a shutdown inning, Kearns came out and struck out the Patriots’ nine hitter but Red Land battled back and notched back-to-back doubles and the visitors brought the score to within one run. Kearns settled in, though, and got Red Land’s three-hitter looking. With Patriot catcher Ben Snyder and tying run aboard at second, Kearns locked back in. He intentionally walked power hitter Searfoss to give the Patriots runners at first and second – and the Huskies a better opportunity to get the force out at any bag. Kearns took matters into his own hands however and struck out the next batter to end the threat.

The Huskies’ bats were quiet in the fourth but the squad nearly went through its lineup for a second time in the fifth. Shope struggled to find the strike zone and the Huskies took full advantage – waiting patiently for their pitch. Shope walked McKay and Cy Treaster on eight straight pitches before surrendering a double to Heath Hidlay. McKay scored on the play but Treaster was cut down at the plate for the first out of the inning. Snook continued his hot day from the plate and he knocked in a run on a single before Aaron Michaels got in on the act and slugged a single to give leadoff man Reeseman another opportunity to do some damage. Shope nearly damaged Reeseman though and the righthander ducked into a curveball that smacked the backside of his helmet. Following a strikeout, Pupo came through with runners in scoring position and put the ball in play, forcing the shortstop to make an error and extending the Huskies’ lead to 11-6.

The thought of a Patriot comeback was certainly in the back of everyone’s mind – especially since the Huskies held a lead against State College then surrendered 10 runs in the last inning – but Kearns remained steady. The freshman shut down the Patriots in order in the sixth – thanks to a nice double play twisted by Isaac Strohecker and Pupo. A seventh-inning leadoff dinger by Searfoss didn’t shake Kearns and the righty induced a flyout and two soft groundouts to end the game.

Mifflin County (5-5, 4-5) travels to Cumberland Valley for another tough Commonwealth game.