Setback for Big Valley in 9-10 opener

BELLEVILLE – The Big Valley 9- and 10-year-old Little League all-stars couldn’t overcome a disastrous eight-run third inning, dropping their District 5 opener 11-1 to State College National Tuesday evening in Belleville.

The game ended after three and a half innings due to the 10-run rule.

Despite the lopsided score, it wasn’t a wire-to-wire victory for State College, who played as the home team because it won the pregame coin flip. Big Valley struck first when Anson Wagner singled home Gale Daubert, who had doubled down the left field line. Wagner then took the mound for the locals and tossed a 1-2-3 bottom of the first.

Unfortunately, that inning was the only bright spot for Big Valley all evening. It went scoreless in the second when Juman Sung relieved starter Evan Martin after just 1 1/3 innings. Sung then led off the bottom half of the second with a double and scored when Tyler Brown singled up the middle.

Thomas Delahoy hit a single of his own to put two runners on with no outs. National then pulled off some base running trickery, sending Brown home when Wagner fired to second to try to cut down Delahoy’s attempted steal. The throw to second and the ensuing throw home were both late, resulting in a 2-0 lead. State College pulled off the same feat again later in the inning to increase the lead to 3-0.

Big Valley simply had no answer for Sung. The burly right-hander pounded the strike zone and induced plenty of harmless ground balls when he wasn’t fanning Big Valley batters. A scoreless top of the third set the stage for National’s breakout bottom half.

Wagner lost his command of the strike zone and loaded the bases with no outs. Ryan Esh took over but struggled as well, walking two and hitting Adam Cooper with a pitch to force in three runs before finally recording an out when he sat Nick Kowalski down on strikes. Sean Adams followed with a sacrifice fly and Evan Martin brought home another run with an RBI single to left.

That brought up Sung, who was already 2-for-2 with a double. He added to his great day at the plate by launching a deep blast over the left field fence that scored three runs and brought the 10-run rule in to play.

Sung stranded Ian Hartzler on second in the top of the fourth to end the game. He finished 3-for-3 at the plate and was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. He struck out three and only walked one in his 2 2/3 innings on the mound.

“He’s the real deal,” Big Valley manager Jason Yoder said of Sung. “He’s definitely a great hitter up there.”

It seemed throughout that it would have been a different game had Big Valley’s pitchers been able to find the strike zone in the second and third innings.

“You definitely can’t walk guys at the all-star level,” Yoder said. “You gotta keep kids off the bases as much as you can, because you’ll pay for it.”

Yoder attributes many of his team’s struggles to opening-round jitters.

“For being the first game, we showed we’re capable of hitting the ball,” he said. “Their hits found the holes, and our hits, we hit it right at them. So I’m feeling pretty good moving forward from here. It always takes a game to get some of the nerves out, so hopefully we got it all out and we’re ready to move on and put this game in the past and go with it.”

Big Valley, which had a bye in the first round, will play an elimination game Thursday at Nittany Valley.

Notes: Nittany Valley beat Bellefonte 3-1 in the first elimination game of the tournament. Both Northern Tier and Southern Tier teams are playing in the same bracket this year, and there was an odd number of entries (13), leading to the unusual bracket structure. … State College National also sent Mifflin County to the elimination bracket in the first round.