Clawing away

COCOLAMUS – In East Juniata’s half of the fifth inning Tuesday, the Tigers started badly – a fly out and a routine infield play put them down two in their first-round District 4 Class AA meeting with Troy.

That’s when the Trojans saw trouble for the first time all day. Starting pitcher Kyle Jackson walked the next two, then Jeremy Pannebaker sent a rocket into center field.

Two runs scored, which was all the home team needed – No. 6 East Juniata (14-6) advanced on a 2-1 victory, and will travel to Athens Friday. The third-seeded Wildcats had a bye in the first round.

Troy had been sitting on the game’s only run since the top of the second, which led off with Isaac Havens getting the first hit of the game. He was caught stealing – a theme that repeated itself through the contest – but Jackson singled to left and eventually made it home on the throwing error, the only one in the game.

Jackson, pushed to second when Kyle Schucker walked, made a dash for third. The steal would have been successful, but it was turned into a run when the throw from the plate went over the head of Mason Hambright at third and into the field, allowing Jackson to cross the plate.

The Tigers had base runners in each of the next three frames, but just one of those – Kyle Hart, who was hit by a pitch and advanced on a walk issued to Bailey Coder – made it into scoring position.

When East Juniata came around in the fifth – especially after Hambright grounded out and Tigers’ pitcher Chas Maguire hit into a routine infield play – there was no reason to believe the Trojans had any reason to worry.

“It can get to a team that doesn’t like each other the way we do,” said East Juniata shorstop Nick Lorenz, who found that his reliable hitting played no role in the scoring in this one. “We battle for each other. I think it doesn’t really matter because everyone’s done it sooner or later. If you keep your heads up it will turn out the way it did tonight.”

But when eight of the next nine Jackson pitches were outside the zone – including six straight that put Terran Sheaffer and Nick Stahr on the bags – the offense that had played so small a role in the game to that point was in position to make a statement. And it was Pannebaker who would be the speaker.

His fly ball to center went well out of reach of Troy’s Brandon Mattocks; the double – the second of two extra-base hits, both East Juniata’s – plated the two base runners and generated a frenzy among the Tiger fans.

“That was a nice two-run shot there. It wasn’t like an error or a bleeder. He hit the ball,” Troy manager Steven Mattocks said. “I can tell they’re a good hitting team and we’re a good hitting team. It was just a good pitching duel.”

Mattocks admitted he may have waited to long to change pitchers.

“I was thinking it was time but I just wanted to get through the inning. He’d been keeping them down,” he said. “He’s been our main starter here the past two years. Part of it is learning how to pitch and and play in the big game. Our offense wasn’t there and he kept us in the game for four innings.”

Troy managed a base hit in each of the two final innings, but the seventh ended in storybook perfection for the Tri-Valley League entrant: Mitchell Morse hit into a double play with a grounder up the middle to Lorenz, who tagged second to erase Jackson, a leadoff single, then threw to first for the final out.

“I think definitely we couldn’t have gone out in a better way than turning a double play,” Lorenz said. “I don’t know what else you’d want at the end of a baseball game.”

Notes: Three of four base-stealing attempts failed thanks to the arms of the two catchers. Troy’s Jackson had the lone success. … Two players were caught off the bag at first in the game, one for each team. … Lorenz got caught in an unusual rundown between first and second when he thought Jackson balked. Under major league rules, he would have been right. … East Juniata also turned a double play in the third when Dane Smith hit a soft liner toward the mound. Maguire grabbed it in the air then rolled and made the throw to first, erasing Collin Binford, who had walked.