Maguire, Juniata defeat top-seed 2-0

NORTHUMBERLAND – No. 1 is just a number, and for the top team in the Susquehanna Valley American Legion League, it didn’t hold up Thursday.

In the first round of the SVALL baseball tournament, it was No. 8 that came out on top. For Juniata County – a newcomer to the league and back in Legion ball after a long layoff – it was a huge lift to get the best of Sunbury-Norry, 2-0, at Pineknotter Park.

Juniata will travel to Danville for today’s second round, where they will meet the host, and is guaranteed to be playing at least into the weekend.

“That was a heck of a game. This is playoff ball – if you make it, you make it and you get a shot,” Juniata skipper Mark Mingle said. “We’ve been coming down the stretch getting better and better. It shows today.”

Defense played a huge role for Juniata, and after a regular-season finale against Danville in which the Post 298 team surrendered 16 runs on 12 hits and committed five errors, there was plenty of room for growth headed into next year. Instead, Juniata did it’s growing up before seeing next week.

“They stepped up. They made the plays they needed to make today,” Mingle said. “If that’s the way we can play every time we’d be really good.”

There were glitches but no charged errors for Juniata. The worst plays were a slow response to a center field fly that might have been an out, and a just-missed ball that dropped inside the right field line for a Sunbury-Norry hit. But the outfield most notably Taran Sheaffer in center and Nick Stahr in left – accounted for nine of the 27 outs. Stahr made a couple great dashes for foul balls to take a batter out.

“(Stahr) He’s been all over the field for me this year. He just moves around well,” Mingle said.

And despite only three strikeouts, Chas Maguire loomed large from the rubber, controlling the batters and forcing them to hit into plays his defense could make.

“Chas pitched a super game for us there,” Mingle said. “He’s a quality pitcher and a super kid.”

Maguire also scored both runs. Juniata scored in the top of the second when he had a lead-off base hit, went to second on a bad pickoff throw then to third when Justin Mingle hit into an error with two outs, which also scored Maguire.

Dylan Loudenslager wore one to put runners on first and second before a groundout ended the frame. That was Juniata’s last offense until the seventh.

Sunbury-Norry, meanwhile, had base runners in every inning except the sixth – but never got a runner past second.

Leadoff batter Kyle Leitzel got that far in the first on a single and steal, but three straight outs left him there. Matt Snyder doubled in the third with two out, but Juniata shortstop Korey Martin snagged a line drive for the third out. And Blake Bettleyon made second when he and Koby Swanger hit back-to-back singles in the fourth.

Going into the final inning, Mark Mingle said his staff thought they were sitting on a 1-0 lead with no hits – they actually had one – while the home team and league’s regular-season champ had plenty of action but no results. And thought that was better – but were happy to add one more in their last at bats.

Maguire doubled to open the frame, then moved on a Sheaffer groundout. Justin Mingle walked, but surprisingly was not signaled to take second – a situation that likely would have been defensive indifference.

“We thought about it, but they had something brewing we thought and we held him,” Mark Mingle explained. “We needed a hit anyway. I don’t know if it’s the right call, but it worked.”

That it did. Loudenslager blasted an RBI single to center, Maguire crossed the dish a second time and the insurance policy was issued.

In the bottom, Swanger singled but was erased on a fielder’s choice that might have been a double play but the first baseman pulled off the bag. Two more fly balls and it no longer mattered.