Late-game surge puts the Little Lions past MC

STATE COLLEGE – Mifflin County battled to a 4-4 tie with State College in its Mid-Penn Commonwealth finale Tuesday but the Little Lions plated four runs in the sixth to seal the deal and take the contest 8-4.

After Mifflin County worked its way back into the game, the Huskies’ starting pitcher Heath Hidlay worked his way into a couple of jams, then worked his way out – doing so by pounding the zone and getting some good defensive plays from his teammates. In the end, Hidlay’s increasing pitch count coupled with the fact that State College’s one through nine is an offensive threat, coach Travis Zook decided it was time for a change.

“It was a combination of pitch count and a good hitting team like that,” he said. “I thought we would try to mix it up a little bit.”

After lifting Hidlay at the conclusion of the fifth, Zook and his staff looked to Logan Swineford, who, Zook says, has been pretty reliable. The right-handed reliever struggled some though, hitting the first batter of the sixth on a 2-2 count then walking the next player on four pitches. Following the two free passes, Zook made another move.

“(Logan’s) been doing well for us at times,” Zook said. “But I wasn’t going to let that snowball so I brought in (Lucas McKay) and put Hidlay back in the game at short.”

McKay would be charged with facing the top of the lineup, which is not an easy task for anyone taking the mound with only a few warmup pitches. The Little Lions’ leadoff man Caleb Walls slapped a ball up the middle that looked like it would plate two more runs for the home team but second baseman Isaiah Kearns dove and kept the ball in the infield – a play that won’t find its way into the stat book, but one that is instinctive and notable.

The ball found Kearns again one batter later and the freshman answered the call. With the infield up, Kearns booted the hard hit ball but stayed with it and was able to throw the runner out at home for the force. Zook was not short on praise for the program’s up and coming player.

“His potential is extremely high,” he said. “He’s been doing well there at second base and I’m happy with him there.”

Kearns can also get it done with his bat. The righty also slapped a line drive through the right side that tied the game at two in the top of the fifth. Kearns had previously hit a frozen rope to left center in his first at bat as well.

“Not all of his at bats result in hits,” Zook added. “But he hits the ball hard.”

Despite the nice plays by Kearns, State College kept the pressure on. A rope off the bat of Dan Fry, a sacrifice fly and a Mifflin County error contributed to the Little Lions’ four-run sixth.

Hidlay battled from the first batter he faced. The junior right hander tossed 10 pitches to the Little Lions’ leadoff man before surrendering a walk to start the home half of the first inning. State College put together two hits, a sacrifice fly and fielder’s choice to grab the early 2-0 lead that would stand up until the top of the fourth.

Hidlay earned a 1-2-3 inning in the second frame and worked his way out of jams with two runners on in the next two innings. He tossed 81 pitches in his five innings of work, scattered seven hits and surrendered four earned runs while striking out two.

The Huskies got on the board after designated hitter Hayden Snook slapped a one-out single in the fourth. Mifflin County’s third baseman Isaac Strohecker then pulled a ball into the hole between shortstop and third for an infield hit which gave Drew Hannon an opportunity to do some damage with runners in scoring position.

Hannon laced a ball down the first base line but the first baseman snagged it and touched the bag for the out. The fielder’s choice moved the runners to second and third with two outs. Snook, now posted at third, got a good read on a passed ball and was able to take home and give the Huskies their first run of the ball game.

Mifflin County got runners on again in the fifth as nine hitter Jacob Larson hit a rope back up the middle. Zook put on the hit and run which Larson and Gage Reesman executed beautifully. Reesman hit a shot back through the middle and Larson reached third on the play. Zook spoke to his team’s ability to execute plays like the hit and run.

“We did well picking that stuff up – the last two games we’ve been hitting and running a little more and sacrifice bunting a little more,” he said. “We’ve been putting guys in motion that way and it’s been going well.”

Kearns’ single plated Larson and a single by McKay moved the runners to second and third but a groundout would end the Mifflin County threat with the game tied.

State College would regain the lead in the home half of the fifth but the Huskies would come right back in the sixth, plating two of their own to tie the game again. A leadoff walk by Isaac Strohecker was followed by another well executed hit and run by catcher Cy Treaster. Treaster laced a ball to left center and with the head start, Strohecker was able to score. Hidlay was able to hit his way aboard and Larson executed a squeeze bunt to perfection to tie the game at four. The tie would be short lived, though as the 14-4 Little Lions would go on to break the game open in the bottom of the sixth.

Mifflin County finishes its Mid-Penn Commonwealth season with a record of 7-9. The Huskies, 9-10 overall, travel to Altoona today for the season finale.