LEWISTOWN – Led by a 10-strikeout, six-inning effort from starting pitcher Lucas McKay, the Mifflin County American Legion baseball team brought it all to the field on Friday, and it was more than startup club Juniata could handle.
In the 9-0 interleague contest, McKay proved his dominance early when he struck out five batters and only allowed two hits within the first two innings.
Juniata certainly earned those two hits, as Blaise Roush outran a grounder to second for a first-inning single and in the second Adrian Martin used his speed to stretch what would have been a seeing-eye single to shallow right into a double, but this was small comfort compared to the four runs Mifflin County was able to produce in its first two innings.
With doubles to center field in both the first and second innings, Max Remy was responsible for two of those four runs, while a McKay single in the first and a Kyle Bodtorf 6-3 groundout with runners on second and third in the second inning made the score 4-0 in Mifflin County’s favor.
Those four runs on five hits were enough to take Juniata starter Chad Eberle off the mound, and through the bottom of the third, relief pitcher Chas Maguire saw only one runner reach base, and that was through an error at second. In the fourth, however, Maguire’s outing unspooled when Mifflin County led off the inning with four straight hits, which was good for two more runs.
With the bases loaded and one out, Maguire did notch his only strikeout of the game and force a 5-3 groundout to end the fourth inning, but Juniata was already two runs deeper in the hole than it had been three outs before.
Mifflin County’s final runs of the game came against Chantz Swartz, who moved in from center field to start the bottom of the fifth.
In the fifth, Swartz gave up a leadoff double to Andrew Larson, and also walked three, resulting in a run for Mifflin County. Then in the sixth, Juniata gave up one run on an overthrow at first from an attempted 6-4-3 double play, and the final run crossed when with runners at the corners, Juniata catcher Kyle Hart threw to second on an attempted steal, allowing the runner to take home.
Juniata coach Mark Mingle said his team improved defensively over its season-opening loss.
“I saw some good things with the defense. A couple little miscues, but nothing severe,” he said.
What Juniata needed most, as Mingle explained, were hits.
“Our biggest struggle yet is still getting key hits,” he said. Overall, Juniata finished with five hits to Mifflin County’s nine.
From Mifflin County coach Bernie Howard’s perspective, the all-around strong effort by his team was an example of what it can accomplish.
“I don’t know that they really appreciate how talented they are,” Howard said of his players. “This is an extremely athletic group of players. And we get this kind of consistency with pitching, I think we’ll be successful.”
Howard cited a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded to end the top of the sixth as key in maintaining the shutout.
“Any time you can stop a team and shut them out, that’s huge,” he said.
Juniata also had a double play in the bottom of the fifth when second baseman Martin snagged a line drive, then made the quick throw to second to end the inning.
With the win, Mifflin County remains undefeated at 3-0 and will travel to Altoona on Sunday.
Juniata (0-2) travels to Bloomsburg the same day for a doubleheader.