Juniata claims Tri-Valley title

NEWPORT — After an eight year absence, the Tri-Valley League baseball trophy is back with the Juniata Indians after defeating Susquenita, 1-0, Thursday night.

The Indians played a tough defense, allowing just four Blackhawk hits in the contest.

Ironically, the game winning run came during a unorthodox strikeout play.

With two outs in the top of the third, Juniata had courtesy runner and speedster, Jamie Bailer on second while Spencer Page was at the plate.

Having two strikes on him, Page tried to protect the plate and swung and missed as the ball hit the ground then bouncing into the catcher’s mitt. Both Page and Bailer both stood still as the catcher thought the inning was complete and rolled the ball out to the pitchers mound.

Not being tug out, Page alertly ran to first while Bailer scored all the way from second while the Susquenita defense tried to get back on the field but it was too late. The Indians scored the only run of the game.

It was a bit of karma for Juniata coach Nick Beward as he was a member of the 1999 Indians as a player and saw a similar thing happen to his team,costing them a win.

“I will tell you this, this had nothing to do with Susquenita but Bruce Wilson reminded me of something that happened in 1999. We were the 16th seed playing the number one seed Palmyra, Zach Allen, who went to play at Bucknell threw a strike that was caught by the catcher at the knees and rolled the ball back and their coaches yelled run and they called him safe. And the next guy hit a 2-run home run and we ended up losing 7-4. We lose and they went onto win the state title,” Beward said. “Brian said sometime it will pay itself back and ironically he said that to me today. It just happens and we won a league title off of it.”

That would be the only run that pitcher Dakota Nealman would need as he and his defense were perfect from the field and didn’t commit any errors. He went on to strike out five on the night, including Josh White in the bottom of the seventh to end the game giving his team the shut out championship victory.

“He’s just been tremendous all year. He always battles. The whole team does,” Beward said. “We struck out a few times tonight but we hit the ball in play quite a bit. In the first inning we had the hard shots. Usually one run isn’t enough but tonight it was.”

Nealman also did it from the plate as well, finishing with a 2-for-3 evening. Highlighting his night at the plate was a seventh inning shot to the deep centerfield confines.

Taking the mound for Susquenita was hurler Alex Forrer. Forrer was the hard luck loser as he went the distance and allowed only three hits on the night.

The Blackhawks’ Achilles heel proved to be its decision making as they committed six errors in the prime time contest.

With two out in the top of the third, Nealman reached second on a fielding error by the Susquenita’s shortstop as he was running to first.

With Bailer sent in to pinch run for the pitcher the stage was set for the moment that will go down in Juniata High School lore.

Susquenita only had one inning where it threatened to tie the game.

In the bottom of the fifth, Trent McGuire led off the inning with single to left.

He then was forced out at second by a fielders choice on a bunt that allowed Josh White to reach first.

Dane Barrick then put down a sacrifice bunt, moving White to second. White stole third but Nealman would not let him advance any further as he struck out Tristan White to end the inning.

After holding the Indians scoreless in the top of the first, the Blackhawks managed to get two on base before the Indians’ defense ended the rally.

While the bottom of the seventh started with a single by Hunter Reed, Nealman was able to get Cole Fields out on a sacrifice bunt, McGuire to bounce into a fielders choice and then finally White to go down swinging to let the celebration get underway.

Juniata ran onto the field to mob Nealman and celebrate a title that’s been eight years in the making.

But there is no rest for the weary as the Indians’ celebration will be short lived. They will have to play its third game in as many days by opening District 6 play against Mount Union in the opening round of the playoffs.