Tigers’ early lead doesn’t hold up

ATHENS – Early on it looked like East Juniata’s playoff run would continue.

The Tigers jumped out to a 3-1 lead after the top of the third and had their bats running on all cylinders. But Athens brought out its ace in the fourth inning and the momentum with it.

East Juniata kept the fight going but ultimately fell 7-4 in District 4 Class AA quarterfinal baseball action Saturday.

“We did get a lead,” East Juniata coach Tim Brubaker said. “We played hard to get to that point. Our offense (was) right on top of their game but then they bring in their second pitcher and he just took control of the game.”

The Wildcats struck first, scoring a run in the bottom of the second. With one out Zane Vargason reached on a walk, then stole second. He would take third on a fielder’s choice setting up freshman Luke Newman’s RBI-single to give Athens a 1-0 lead.

East Juniata stranded a runner on third in the first inning before breaking through in the third.

Terran Sheaffer led off the third by reaching on an error. After two outs were made a Nick Lorenz double drove in Sheaffer to knot the game up at 1-1 but the Tigers weren’t finished.

The two-out rally continued as Dalton Rowe singled to drive in Lorenz, giving East Juniata a 2-1 lead.

After Kyle Hart reached on a error, a Bailey Coder single brought in Rowe to make it 3-1 Tigers before the Wildcats got the final out.

Athens roared back in the fourth.

Troy Stivason led off with a triple followed by Mason Hambright issuing a walk to Tyler Forbes then beaning Vargason to load the bases.

After the first out Newman was again the right man in the right place for the Wildcats, hitting a double over the center fielder’s head to bring all three runs in.

East Juniata caught Newman trying to stretch it into a triple to help them get out of the inning, but not before the Wildcats took a 4-3 lead.

In the fifth, Lorenz drew a walk then stole second. On a wild pitch he tried for third. The throw got past the third baseman and Lorenz was quick to get up and score to knot the score at 4-4.

In the bottom of the fifth, Athens’ Dan Fisher reached on a fielder’s choice followed by Shadduck getting hit by a pitch for the second time on the day.

Stivason would take first on a fielder’s choice to put runners on the corners with two outs.

This time it was Forbes who hit the triple into center, plating Fisher and Stivason.

A single by Vargason brought in Forbes to make it a 7-4 game in favor of Athens.

That’s all Forbes needed. After relieving Wildcat starter Sam Perri, he was unhittable, allowing just three walks while striking out eight to pick up the win.

“Our pitchers were a little wild,” Brubaker said. “We were running deep counts. We had to come back with fastballs and they sat right on the fastballs.”

Despite the setback Brubaker was pleased to see his squad make a run in district play.

“I’ve got to say I’m very happy we made it this far,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to make the playoffs, make districts but you know how as you go on you want that one more. I’m sure the boys wanted one more and we gave a very good effort and we just came out on the short side of the score.”

Having to make the trip twice in back to back days took its toll on East Juniata. The Tigers made the long trip to Athens Friday but were sent home by the rain.

“Coming up yesterday then getting home kind of late last night then coming back up, it was a hard one on us but we learned a lot,” Brubaker said. “A lot of things we can take on to the future and I’m hoping we can build on this for next year and years to come.”

East Juniata finishes the season 14-7.