At the start of July, Ryan MacNamara aggravated an old knee injury while taking a swing.
He decided to take a month off, let it rest and set his sights on helping Clarence make a run in the Centre County Baseball League playoffs. MacNamara made his first start on the mound since the injury Friday night and led the Mounties to a 5-4 win over the Philipsburg Spike Island Pirates, giving Clarence a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five championship series.
The right-hander, who went 6 1/3 innings and allowed three runs, said his knee felt good after earning the win.
“I just kind of sprained it there. I’ve had knee problems through wrestling,” MacNamara said. “I had surgery on it about two years ago, but it’s just a never-ending thing for me now. I’m probably going to need knee replacements when I’m older. It’s just one of those things, it popped out, gave it the rest that it needed. Glad to be back here to be part of this.”
The Mounties can clinch their first league championship since 2004 with a win Sunday at 2 p.m. at Philipsburg. The Pirates are hoping to bounce back and push the series to five games.
“We don’t have any pressure now,” Philipsburg’s Matt Curtis said. “All the pressure’s on Clarence. They’re in the driver seat. It’s their chance to win. We just haven’t put a full game together. The last inning, we got hot. Deep down inside, we’re not worried. We’ve just got to come out, hit the ball and we’ll be all right. It’ll be a good last three games.”
In addition to his performance on the mound, MacNamara set the tone at the plate.
He cracked a two-run home run to left field in the first inning to give Clarence a 2-0 lead.
“That was one of a few that I’ve probably got in my life that I hit the sweet spot and it just felt good coming off the bat there,” MacNamara said.
Clarence went ahead 3-0 on Kalen Gearhart’s solo homer to left field in the second inning and led 5-1 after three innings.
Justin Taylor sent a line drive to right field and advanced to third when the ball got through Philipsburg’s Aaron Lidgett. MacNamara came around to score on the play, and Taylor scored on a single by Hunter Guenot.
Clarence manager Rob Gavlock credited the early leads and strong pitching performances for both victories.
“We’ve gotten fantastic pitching these last two games,” Gavlock said. “That’s what’s really kept us in the ballgame. Scoring five runs in two games, in this league with aluminum bats, a lot of times you score five runs, you’re losing. But our pitching and our defense has kept us in the ballgames. Hats off to these guys, we’ve come together in these playoffs as a team.”
MacNamara got the job done on the mound Friday. He limited Philipsburg to one run and four hits through six innings. The right-hander finished with five strikeouts and three walks.
After getting a groundout to start the seventh, MacNamara hit Curtis and allowed a ground-rule double to Drew Bryan to end his outing. Taylor took the mound to get the final two outs with a 5-1 lead.
The Pirates’ Jeremy Potter lifted a sacrifice fly to center field to score Curtis. Matt McCamley then crushed a two-run homer to center field to bring Philipsburg within 5-4 with two outs.
But Clarence held on as John Shaffer flew out to end the game.
“If we can get it all going, we showed everybody during the regular season we just need one game to get going and then we can get on a streak,” Curtis said. “So we’re comfortable with where we’re at. We didn’t get here by accident.”
Gavlock pointed to Clarence’s history as all the reminder it needed to stay focused. In its last trip to the championship series, Clarence led 2-0 but fell to Lemont in 2007.
MacNamara said Clarence just needs to stay calm as it has throughout its postseason run.
“I think right now we just need to look at it as one game at a time like we have all through playoffs,” MacNamara said. “Whether we lost or won, we’ve just got to stay level-headed, just understand there’s another day. So I think if we come in with the same approach, a lot of energy and everything, we’ll see what happens Sunday.”