Nealman homers twice in title loss to Mifflinburg

MIFFLINBURG – With no outs and two on in the top of the sixth, Juniata County’s Devon Nealman was headed to the plate. Nealman had already stroked a pair of solo homers over the center field fence, and if his team was going to see another day of the Little League District 13 Area II 10-11 tournament, it would have to count on him again.

Nealman singled, pushing Jamie Bailer across the plate – and a fielding error delivered a run opportunity for Caleb Bargo. Nealman himself crossed on a dropped third strike, but that was the final run scored by Juniata County in a 9-6 championship loss to Mifflinburg.

Juniata County, which dropped an even closer decision to Mifflinburg earlier in the tournament, needed to win Monday and then a second time to take the area title and advance to the district round.

The problem was that no matter how many runs Juniata County scored, Mifflinburg scored more. The host club put four over the plate in the bottom of the fifth that proved to be somewhat necessary with the best part of Juniata County’s batting order coming around. Juniata County manager Wade Druckemiller said he was a bit surprised Mifflinburg gave Nealman a third chance after the two homers earlier in the game.

“The boy can hit, there’s no doubt about it. I was surprised they even pitched to him the last time,” he said, but added it was the hits his team didn’t get that were the difference.

“We needed some hits in a couple places where we didn’t get them,” Druckemiller said. “It’s a lot of pressure on the kids, especially a do-or-die championship game.”

Mifflinburg made its case for the title early, with a bit of help from Juniata County. Bailer, getting the start on the hill, threw seven balls to open the contest; two walks were followed by two singles before he settled down. Mifflinburg batted the order in the first and had a 3-0 lead in the middle of the frame.

“They rattled our first pitcher right off. The first inning he went 39 pitches,” Druckemiller noted.

It was 3-1 headed to Mifflinburg’s second offensive half, and in that frame a pair of errors combined with two more base hits made it 5-1.

“Errors are what kills you,” Druckemiller said. “Once their heads get down, they get it into their heads – that’s what cost them. When they play they’re unbeatable.”

The next scoring was Juniata County’s, in the top of the fourth. A Bailer triple and Nealman’s second homer combined to make it a two-run game, and Mifflinburg was held without a run for the second straight inning in the bottom of that frame.

But in the fifth, a pair of walks, a hit batter, a single and a double – along with a run scored on a wild pitch – put Juniata County in a tough spot. It’s one the team couldn’t get out of.

Notes: Juniata County was the last local team still playing in District 13. … Nealman had three home runs against Mifflinburg, all with Jacob Brooks, the game winner Monday, on the mound. … There was one other extra-base hit in the game, a double by Mifflinburg’s Brooks. Nealman drove in three runs and Caleb Bargo one. … Both teams had a runner reach first on a dropped third strike. Juniata’s was Jared Hutchinson, in the sixth; leadoff hitter Nathan Berry also had a chance to reach that way to start the game but couldn’t outrun the throw.