Weather, outcome bitter for Juniata

BEAVER SPRINGS – On a day when you were as likely to see a snowball as a curve ball, no manager wants to put his strong arms on the mound.

In fact, veteran Midd-West skipper Ron Flood said succinctly Monday, “I didn’t want to pitch anybody today. As cold as it was, I didn’t feel comfortable throwing anyone. It was so darned cold – they could hurt their arm.

“I didn’t want to win one that way, I didn’t want to lose one that way.”

But he and Juniata manager Nick Beward both had to choose. In the long run, the choice became who was going to take a risk first in a game in which pitching and defense seemed like an afterthought.

Flood pulled the trigger after four innings, when the Mustangs held the closest any team would be to a comfortable lead.

The Indians plated two final runs in the fifth, but it wasn’t enough as Midd-West took a 12-11 win away from the visitors in the non-league contest, the season opener for both clubs.

After that, out came Hunter Shuff. Down went Juniata.

Shuff proved to be the difference for his team, redeeming himself for some early troubles handling the ball at shortstop – again, the effect of bitter cold that plagued both teams.

“He’s a better infielder than that, no question,” Flood said of Shuff’s errors early in the game. “He gave up a lot of runs for us, but he came back and helped us on the mound. It worked itself out.”

Maybe more than worked itself out. Shuff, who got a save for his three-inning performance, effectively won the game for the Mustangs by striking out five batters – half the team total – walking just three (half of his predecessors combined) and allowing only two hits and no runs when the game was on the line.

It was the opposite of the early innings, when the two teams combined for 15 hits and 17 runs over two frames. Juniata took a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, then after Midd-West evened the score, put up three more in the second.

“We as a team have not swung the bat like that in awhile,” Beward said. “We took advantage of some of their miscues as well. I stress to these guys if you can put the ball in play something good usually happens.”

But it happened for the Mustangs, too. And Midd-West was getting big hits. Juniata lived on singles all afternoon, but three times in those first two innings, the Mustangs smacked two-baggers – Eli Stem and Marcus Benfer each bashed RBI doubles, as Ryan Combs had done in the first – and the extra-base hits gave the home team a one-run lead after a pair.

Flood felt his team could have had more as it batted the order in the frame.

“We hit the ball. We put too much air in a couple of them. The guys were a bit anxious, got out a in front a little,” he said. “But when we weighted back and hit the ball, we hit the ball pretty well.”

Juniata tied it in the top of the fourth, but that was as good as it would get.

Beward was concerned about defensive opportunities that slipped away – short hits to the infield that were fielded cleanly, but were good for only two outs.

“On a couple double-play balls we had trouble transition-wise,” he said. “We got the lead runner but couldn’t make the play because our hands were so cold. I understand that – I do.”

Juniata put up another pair in the fifth, but the hits were coming fewer and far between.

“At the end we started to get a little more choosy and it cost us,” Beward said. “That ended up being the difference.”

Justin Mingle and Chantz Swartz each had three hits for Juniata; Mingle and Ty Treaster each drove in three runs. Shuff and Combs each hit three for Midd-West, with Combs plating three runs.

Juniata (0-1) hosts Upper Dauphin Thursday. Midd-West travels to Danville Friday.