Bellefonte’s gray-bearded manager could only shake his head.
Duane Grove has seen plenty of Little League pitchers in his time. He even coached an especially strong-armed one just last season. But, he said, still shaking his head, it’s rare to encounter one like his team did Saturday evening.
Grove’s Bellefonte team watched one batter after another go down swinging as it fell 4-0 to Hollidaysburg in the opening game of the Section 4 Little League Baseball Tournament. Bellefonte will play Indiana at 5 p.m. Sunday at Montresor Field — with another loss ending its season.
Most of Bellefonte’s batters grimaced on their way back to the dugout — courtesy of Hollidaysburg’s Landon Perry, a lanky hurler who towered above some of his coaches. His fastball tops 77 mph “on a good day,” his coach said, and it had Bellefonte chasing the baseball all over the plate.
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Perry struck out Bellefonte’s first six batters. He pitched a perfect game through four innings. And he didn’t allow a single ball to make it out of the infield until the fifth inning. His final stat line: eight strikeouts, no walks, one hit.
“He’s a very good pitcher,” Bellefonte starting pitcher Quinn Tooker said. “We struggled a lot with him, and all I can say is he’s really good — and fast.”
Grove changed his game plan in the second inning when Hollidaysburg’s Joe Bukosky spread his arms to celebrate moments after hitting a two-run homer — and it appeared as if hits were going to be few and far between for the local team. Grove limited his starting pitcher, Tooker, to just 18 pitches. Then did the same for the next two relievers.
The thinking? If they tossed less than 20 pitches, they’d be able to pitch again Sunday. They’d then still be able to use their best to spark a winning streak. Hollidaysburg’s ace, on the other hand, would require rest until at least Wednesday since he threw 64 pitches.
“When you see a pitcher like that and you’re not putting the ball in play, you got to start thinking ahead a little bit,” Grove said.
Added Tooker: “We’re going to take a fighting attitude for the next game because we have to come back after losing the first game. I think we can win this (tournament).”
Saturday’s theme for Hollidaysburg was most certainly power. Not only was Perry a force on the mound but, in the fifth inning, he smacked a ball over left-center that narrowly avoided car windshields. His solo shot came just one at-bat after one of his teammates, Ethan Stevenson, dinged a homer off one of the stadium light poles.
Once Perry was finished pitching, Bellefonte started to put the ball in play — but it was just too late. Both teams played flawless defense, and Bellefonte couldn’t capitalize with two men on and two outs in the final frame.
Bellefonte finished with just three hits — all in the last two innings — from Cooper Funk, Dominic Capperella and Braedyn Kormanic. The defense was solid, with a snared line drive from Davis Corman and some strong arms in the outfield.
But Grove knew early on that Game 1 wasn’t going to come easy for Bellefonte. And Tooker knew afterward that one game doesn’t make a tournament.
Bellefonte lost the first game in a preseason tournament and then rallied back to win. In the District 5 tournament, it was the same story. In fact, that was the last time Bellefonte lost.
“I feel my teammates and I can come back and finish this,” Tooker said.
Added Grove: “Like Quinn said, it’s not like we haven’t been here before. We’ll just have to see what happens.”