When his team was at the plate Thursday, Bellefonte pitcher Adam Armstrong yelled toward his teammates — “Let’s go 2-4!,” “C’mon, Funk!” — while gulping down red Gatorade.
He took special care to only drink red Gatorade.
The junior lefty experienced immediate success — three up, three down — in the first inning of the District 6 Class 4A game against Johnstown on Thursday afternoon. So he didn’t want to stray from his routine. Call it superstition, or call it silly — but it seemed effective enough. He struck out 10, walked one and scattered three hits in the Red Raiders’ dominant 12-1 six-inning win over Johnstown.
“It kept going well,” Armstrong said with a laugh. “So I just kept drinking red.”
The No. 4-seed Raiders will now take on top-seed Somerset on the road at 4 p.m. Monday in the district semifinals. The winner will play either Forest Hills or Bedford in the district championship.
And, thanks to Armstrong, Thursday’s result was never really in doubt.
Johnstown didn’t figure out the southpaw until the 86-degree heat started to get to him in the sixth inning, after throwing more than 80 pitches. While some sun-soaked fans retreated beneath umbrellas along the third-base line, Armstrong just wiped his brow and kept working.
The Trojans didn’t hit a ball out of the infield until the sixth frame. And Armstrong’s no-hitter wasn’t broken up until the sixth, as well, when he surrendered three straight hits before Jacob Bakos grounded out to end the inning.
“Obviously, their pitcher threw an exceptional game — one of the best games I’ve seen all year,” Johnstown coach Koko Pfeil said. “His velocity isn’t overwhelming but, when you have the change of speeds he had, it becomes overwhelming for the hitters.”
Armstrong’s 1-2 curveball-fastball punch was difficult to adjust to. But Armstrong said between smiles that his performance came a lot easier because of the run support from his teammates.
The Raiders struck first in the second inning when, with two outs and two men on, Cayden Lucas smacked a screaming grounder that Johnstown’s first baseman couldn’t handle. That drove in a run and, one batter later, Lucas confused the Trojans’ infielders when he tried to steal second. He was trapped in a rundown, when Jaymz McClelland took off for home and Johnstown’s first baseman instead threw to the catcher — who didn’t tag the runner in time.
Bellefonte led 2-0 after the second inning, then scored two in the next frame and two in the inning after that. Armstrong said the pressure was off at that point. In the dugout, he’d drink his red Gatorade and, on the mound, he’d grin between pitches. “I try to smile,” Armstrong added. “This is fun for me.”
Said Raiders coach Dan Fravel: “Nothing fazes him. He’s just a happy-go-lucky, good dude that loves the game of baseball.”
Armstrong’s face was practically pressed up against the fence while his teammates batted. Between gulps of his red Gatorade, he’d cheer on the hitters. And when McClelland ended the game on a grand slam over the right field fence — the swing gave Bellefonte the sixth-inning win thanks to the 10-run rule — Armstrong was one of the first Red Raiders waiting to greet him at home plate.
McClelland said he knew as soon as he made contact that the ball was gone. But he seemed more eager to pat his pitcher on the back after the game, than recount how he sent the second fastball he eyed over the fence.
“It’s hard to be surprised with him,” McClelland said, referring to Armstrong. “He throws like that every game.
“We know he’s always going to come out and give a strong performance.”