After the way the first inning went, the Centre County Baseball League’s championship series opener appeared to be headed toward a slugfest.
But the pitchers settled in, and a battle that has raged at various levels for decades was tight all the way to the last out.
The Clarence Mounties took a first-inning lead and never relented in a 5-3 victory over the Philipsburg Spike Island Pirates on Thursday evening at the Don Womer Baseball Complex.
“It feels good,” said Brian Kochik, who pitched six solid innings for the win. “(Philipsburg) is the team to beat, lately. We’ve been seeing these guys, holy heck, since Little League. We know each other so well.”
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It gave the Mounties first blood in the best-of-five series, which started two days late because of the week’s damp conditions.
“We’ve played against them all of our lives,” said Justin Taylor, who clubbed a solo home run in that first inning and also earned the save. “We know them and we’re really good friends with them, but when we get on the filed with them it’s business. It’s the finals — we want to win and they want to win. Coming up here and getting that first win on the road is just huge for us.”
The teams will be right back on the field Friday, with first pitch at 5:45 p.m. in Clarence.
Derek Jabco led the Mountie offense with a 3 for 4 night, including a double to lead off the game, and Ryan MacNamara also added a single and double. Dylan Schall also delivered a home run.
Kochik struck out three while allowing eight hits, three runs, one walk and one hit batter over six innings.
“He did a really good job changing speeds, hitting his spots, keeping us off balance,” said Philipsburg’s Matt Curtis, who reached base on all three of his plate appearances on a single, error and getting hit by a pitch. “That’s one of the best pitching performances against us as a team. Give him a lot of credit for the way he threw today.”
After Kochik gave up a leadoff single to Matt McCamley in the seventh, he was relieved by Taylor, who pitches at California, Pa., but has not pitched all summer for the Mounties. Taylor struck out all three batters he faced.
Josh Potter, who spent six seasons pitching in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor league system, struck out seven and allowed 10 hits, five runs and one walk in the complete-game loss.
Matt McCamley clobbered a two-run homer as part of his 2 for 3 day, while Drew Bryan was 2 for 4 with a triple and scored two of his team’s three runs.
The ball was flying almost from the first pitch. Jabco led off the game with a double off the fence in left field, and MacNamara then had his own double off the fence in center. He moved up on a wild pitch and scored on Hunter Guenot’s fly ball to center, and Taylor finished the Clarence scoring in the first with a blast over the fence in right.
“We talked all week about coming up here and jumping on whoever was throwing,” Taylor said. “We’ve seen (Potter) plenty of times and we know what we’re going to get. I had a good count, I got what I got and I got a good swing on it and it gave us a good lead.”
The Pirates answered on a Bryan single followed by a one-out shot from McCamley to left-center.
“McCamley hit that home run and I was like, ‘Oh boy, here we go,’” Kochik said. “Those guys can hit. They’re a great hitting team and if you don’t keep the ball down, if you make a mistake, they can hit it.”
Philipsburg did get plenty of other opportunities, with at least one baserunner in every inning, but the Pirates left nine runners on base.
“After the first inning, we were talking and we thought that one was going to be 10-9,” Curtis said. “Even with two good pitchers and that wind. ... We were expecting a home run derby there for a while.”
But the wind seemed to be cutting down the fly balls after the second inning, spoiling some of the chances.
Philipsburg got its other run in the fifth, with a leadoff triple for Bryan and an infield pop-up from Jeremy Potter that got pushed around by the wind and played tricks on first baseman Justin Koleno.
Clarence answered the Pirate rally in the bottom with Schall’s homer just inside the left-field pole in the second, and got its last run in the fourth when Matt Fisher singled and later scored on a Jabco single.
“Every time we inched back, they did a really good job of getting a run or making a big play,” Curtis said. “When it comes down to it, we didn’t get the hit when we had runners on.”
Those three first-innings runs, however, set the tone for the rest of the evening.
“Getting that lead in the first was huge,” Kochik said. “That really settled me down, nerves-wise. When you pitch with a lead, you can almost pitch in a whole different way. You’re filling up the zone, throwing a lot of strikes.”