Cody Klinger was determined to get the last out, no matter how many pitches it took.
And finally, on No. 166, he got want both he and his Clarence Mountie teammates wanted.
Klinger struck out Matt McCamley with the bases loaded in the ninth inning as Clarence completed a three-game sweep of top-seeded Philipsburg with a 5-3 triumph in the Centre County Baseball League championship.
Klinger tossed a five-hitter in the clincher at the Don Womer Complex. He walked five and struck out 10, including the side in a tense final inning.
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“I wanted that last out more than anything,” said Klinger, who was still a little winded after the contest. “It did not come easy. There were a lot of fouled off pitches and they really hanging in there and battling at the end. I just kept throwing.”
That Klinger is even in a Clarence uniform is an interesting story.
Klinger is orginally from the Pottsville area and the 6-foot-6 right-hander was here for the summer because his girlfriend is from the area.
“I needed a place to play,” said Klinger, who is at East Stroudsburg University. “These guys took me in and it’s been great.”
The feeling is mutual.
“In years past, we’ve always lacked the big arm,” said Hunter Guenot, who was a member of Clarence’s last title team in 2004. “I think we got it with Cody Klinger. Pitching is the name of the game and we got three great pitching performances. ... To know that you’re going into Game 3 with arguably your best pitcher throwing on plenty of rest is a good feeling.”
“He has a rubber arm on him,” Clarence coach Rob Gavlock said of Klinger. “He may have started eight or nine games this season and he’s only failed to go the distance once.”
The Mounties trailed 3-0 early, but rallied to tie the contest with two runs in the sixth against Philipsburg starter Jake Belinda, who was dominating in the early innings.
Belinda stranded a runner at third in the seventh before giving way to Josh Potter. Klinger also left the winning run at third an inning later to set up the ninth.
Potter got the first two outs, but walked No. 8 hitter Matt Fisher and No. 9 hitter Mike Lutz. That brought up leadoff hitter Derek Jabco, one of the hottest Mounties.
Jabco fell behind 0-2 before a wild pitch moved up the baserunners. With the count 2-2, Jabco looped a single into short left field to plate the two baserunners and give the Mounties their first lead of the game.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Jabco said. “I’m a swinger. I’m not a taker. The fact that I actually got one play is amazing. I strike out a lot.”
“He’s been on a tear,” Gavlock said of Jabco, a former Bald Eagle Area standout. “Probably the last 12 games, he’s been hitting at a .600 clip. ... He said he’s seeing the ball well. It was very clutch for him.”
Buoyed by a chance to close it out, Klinger came out in the ninth and fanned the first two batters on seven pitches, but then it got tough.
Parker Watson drew a walk and Matt Curtis lofted a 3-2 pitch down the left-field line for a single. Drew Bryan then fouled off four two-strike pitches before being hit with a 3-2 pitch.
McCamley fell behind 1-2 and fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches. Klinger came back with a fastball on the outside corner than McCamley got a piece of, but catcher Lutz held on to the tip and rushed the mound to be the first to hug Klinger.
“I don’t know if I want to know,” said Klinger, before being informed that his pitch total was 166. “Holy cow. I don’t think I’ve ever thrown that many.”
Jabco said there was both joy and relief to dispatch the talented Pirates.
“If they would have took this one, it definitely would have gone to Game 5,” said Jabco. “I can guarantee it.”
The way the contest started for Clarence, it looked like it was going to be a rough day for Klinger and his teammates. Within the first two batters, the Mounties committed three errors as the Spike Island Pirates grabbed a 1-0 lead. Jon Shaffer’s RBI single made it 2-0.
The damage could have been worse, except for some help from Ryan MacNamara. The center fielder grabbed a fly ball and made a perfect strike to nail Shaffer at the plate to end the inning.
In the third, Philipsburg tacked on another run. Curtis led off with a single. With Curtis running on a 2-2 pitch, Bryan hit a nubber to Klinger’s left that the pitcher couldn’t control. Klinger grabbed it threw wild past first and Curtis steamed all the way around to score.
Belinda, who pitches for Lock Haven University, was cruising. He struck out six of the first 10 batters he faced.
“I saw him warming up and I said, ‘Man this kid has got some good stuff,’” Guenot said. “He pitched a great game. His off-speed pitch had us struggling the whole game. He got us chasing it and he throws hard.”
The Mounties began chipping away in the fourth, thanks to two former BEA standouts. MacNamara singled, swiped second and went to third as the throw skipped into center field. He trotted home after Justin Taylor sent a bullet through the middle.
Two innings later, they tied it. Jabco was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on MacNamara’s single to left. MacNamara once again swiped second and went to third on an error. With the count 2-1, Philipsburg elected to walk Taylor to bring up Guenot.
The veteran drove a fly ball to center that easily plated the speedy MacNamara with the tying run.
“I’m just trying to have a solid at-bat,” said Guenot. “I was able to get one in the air and knew right away it was going to be deep enough to score the tying run. It felt good, but would have rather ripped a double or something.”
Guenot came out of retirement this season when Gavlock needed him. “They had some injuries early in the year,” Guenot said. “So one game led to two and three, etc.”
Guenot enjoyed bringing the league title back to Clarence.
“It’s different,” he said of his second crown. “I guess you kind of realize how hard it is to do because it took 10 years. You do appreciate it more.”
MacNamara had two of Clarence’s six hits. Bryan, currently at VMI, and Curtis had two hits each for Philipsburg.
Klinger stranded runners in scoring position four times after Philipsburg scored in the third.
“Cody kept us in the game,” Jabco said. “I can’t say that enough.”
Gavlock proudly walked away with the championship trophy and promised a big party in Clarence later Sunday evening.
“This morning, I probably had 15 text messages from guys off that ’04 team,” he said. “I wasn’t around then, but I told these guys, ‘You need to be a part of a championship because everyone is going to go you were on that 2014 team.’ People still talk about it.”
As he headed to his car, Gavlock held the trophy up for a Clarence fan.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to get my hands on this,” he said.