Throw away

LEWISTOWN – The Mifflin County American Legion team kept its Central Penn League playoff run alive Tuesday evening by the slimmest of margins – quite literally. With two outs in the seventh and final inning, Mifflin County center fielder Kyle Bodtorf gunned down DuBois baserunner Devon Walker, the would-be tying run, at the plate in bang-bang play that could not have been any closer. The throw and the ensuing tag by catcher John Michael Maclay preserved the 3-2 win for Post 287, sending it to Beech Creek today needing a win to force a championship game on Thursday.

Mifflin County was buoyed by an outstanding complete game performance on the hill from Isaac Strohecker, limiting a dangerous DuBois team to two runs, one of which was earned.

The game was highlighted by defense, both good and bad. Both teams made their share of web gems – Mifflin County pitcher Isaac Strohecker was especially flashy with the leather – but defensive miscues also played a factor, setting up most of the runs that were scored in the contest.

The DuBois defense was the first to falter. John Michael Maclay led off the bottom of the second with a single and Drew Hannon followed with a slow grounder to shortstop Clayton Reed, who delivered a low throw that first baseman Jake Felix couldn’t handle, putting two on with nobody out. Heath Hidlay struck out, but a Jacob Larson single loaded the bases. Post 287 would then score the first run of the game when Maclay crossed home plate after a passed ball. Third baseman Jake Miknis then added to the visitors’ dismal defensive inning as he fielded a slow roller and went home with it, firing it well out of reach of catcher Braden Paulinellie, allowing another run to score. Mifflin County would tack on another when batter Hunter Walker and baserunner Larson executed a perfect suicide squeeze play, a risky call by Post 287 manager Bernie Howard in a hotly contested elimination contest.

“I’ve long been a proponent of small ball,” he remarked. “Love that squeeze play. It turned out to be the winning play. Hunter Walker has done that at least two other times this year and I had a real good baserunner there in Jacob Larson. I felt really comfortable that we could pull that off.”

DuBois would respond in the top of the fourth when Felix hit an RBI single with one out, putting two runners on base for Justin Sleigh. He hit a hard grounder to shortstop that probably would have been a 6-4-3, inning-ending double play, but the ball snuck under Lucas McKay’s glove, allowing a run to score and keeping the inning alive. Strohecker didn’t let the error faze him. Instead, he responded in the best way possible by fanning John Mohney and getting Devon Walker to ground out to strand the tying run on third.

“I don’t know what more we could’ve asked for,” Howard said regarding Strohecker’s performance. “He was just outstanding. He spread the hits out nicely. Even when they had a couple men on base, the defense dug deep and stopped a couple of potential rallies.”

There would be no more scoring after the fourth. The DuBois pitching duo of starter Phil Myers and Colin Reed succeeded in keeping Post 287 in check – the locals recorded just four hits – but Strohecker was just a bit better. The right-hander fanned three and issued three walks.

Strohecker allowed five hits, three of which came in the seventh. Walker led off with a bloop single, but Paulinellie’s bunt attempt was popped up to Strohecker, who made a slick sliding grab and almost doubled Walker off first. A Colin Reed groundout brought Darren Mckee to the plate, who moved Walker to second with a single of his own. That brought up Clayton Reed, who flared a single to center that Bodtorf fielded on one hop and fired home just in time for Maclay to collect the ball and tag a sliding Walker just in the nick of time.

“I thought we saw some outstanding defense out there,” Howard said. “I really felt that it was our defense that got the job done. And we got just enough offense to grab the win.”

The victory sets Mifflin County (22-9), up with a rematch against Beech Creek, the team that gave Post 287 its only loss in this double elimination tournament, a 7-2 defeat on Sunday. Mifflin County, the tournament’s top seed must defeat the second-seeded Clinton County team this evening to force a winner-take-all championship game on Thursday.

“Now it comes down to us,” Howard said. “We’re the top two seeds in the tournament, and we’ll battle it out to see who goes to regionals.”