For a total of eight innings that spanned two different games, Clearfield’s Cade Walker had the Bellefonte 11-12-year-old Little League All-Star team’s number.
But a one-out bunt for a base hit was the start of a change of fortune for the Bellefonte offense.
After Zane Thornburg reached on an error with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Dylan Young put down a perfect bunt that the Clearfield defense couldn’t handle and C.J. Funk followed with a towering three-run home run over the center field fence to erase a 2-0 deficit.
Bellefonte tacked on four more runs in the frame its way to a 7-2 victory to force a deciding game at 6 p.m. Monday for the District 5 title and Section 4 tournament berth in Bellefonte.
Walker pitched 3 2/3 innings on June 29 in the winner’s bracket final against Bellefonte, allowing just an unearned run on three hits in a 7-1 win. He was at it again Sunday at McNamee Field, holding the potent Bellefonte offense to just one hit and pitching a shutout through four.
Bellefonte manager Eric Funk expected to see Walker again and had his team spend a lot of time in practice preparing for the southpaw.
“We focused on their lefty,” Funk said. “He’s very good. We struggled with him, and we let him get in our head last time and we just didn’t hit the ball. So we spent a lot of time focusing on some lefty-type pitching. We really focused on it, and for three-quarters of this game, he still had our number.
“Finally we got it in the boys’ heads to get something going. We have a great group of hitters here. It was just a matter of getting a couple key hits and getting things going.”
C.J. Funk’s three-run blast was only the beginning for Bellefonte, which sent 12 batters to the plate in the fifth.
“That was a huge momentum-changer,” Eric Funk said of the home run. “And then the confidence was there. We really felt like we lost the other game between the ears. These boys are all used to rapping the ball. When we didn’t do it last time, the boys sunk pretty quick.
“We knew we had to get them emotionally ready for this game, and it was looking like it wasn’t going to happen, but eventually we found it. It just took a little time.”
After Colton Burd made the second out, Ben McCartney, Ben MacAfee and Nick Fisher hit consecutive singles off Walker. McCartney scored on Fisher’s base hit.
Tim Shawley followed with a three-run home run that put Bellefonte on top 7-2.
Bellefonte finished with seven runs and seven hits off Walker, who walked two and struck out six.
“That’s the way this team usually hits,” Funk said. “But to his credit, he’s a very good pitcher and he gave us stuff that we had a hard time dealing with.”
Bellefonte pitchers Cam Burris, C.J. Funk and Burd limited Clearfield to just two hits Sunday after the staff surrendered seven runs on five hits and walked seven batters in the first meeting.
The Bellefonte pitchers also handled Clearfield cleanup hitter Allan Myers, who smashed a grand slam in the winner’s bracket final.
Myers was 0 for 2 with a pair of strikeouts on Sunday, including one with the bases loaded and none out in the top of the fifth.
Myers walked and scored in the second to give Clearfield a 1-0 lead, and Walker plated a run on a fifth-inning sacrifice fly, setting the stage for Bellefonte’s rally. C.J. Funk, who struck out to lead off the game, delivered the big blow.
“It’s probably about the third time he struck out all year,” Eric Funk said. “But he just hits the ball. Anytime we can get a couple guys on ahead of him, he usually comes through. He’s killed a lot of teams this year.
“We knew the game was going to be won or lost at the plate.”