Bald Eagle Area is clearly a baseball team headed for the playoffs. Philipsburg-Osceola is clearly a team trying to retool.
It may seem the two squads, headed in different directions, may have nothing to learn from each other.
However, when the Eagles held on for a 5-2 win on Tuesday in Philipsburg, each left with experience that could help in the future.
“We had one like this last Thursday at Clearfield and hung on for a 5-4 win,” BEA head coach Jim Gardner said. “These games are good. They build character and come playoff time we’ll have been in those close games and we should be able to handle it. I’d just sooner put up a few more runs.”
The Eagles (9-2) made several plays late to edge their game but inexperienced opponents at Don Womer Baseball Complex.
Nate Cleaver (3-1) started for BEA and although he struggled to find the plate and gave up a home run, the junior made pitches when needed.
“Their record may not show as well as they played today, but they’re definitely a solid team and they performed like it today,” Cleaver said. “They worked the count on me and managed to get on base and pick up two runs.”
The Eagles jumped on the Mounties early, much like they did when they demolished P-O 14-1 at home in early April.
After Bryce Greene reached base in the first on an error and subsequently stole second, Logan Reese crushed a single to left moving Greene to third. A batter later Ryan Dyke’s sacrifice fly put BEA on the board.
After Reese swiped second, an inside-out single to right by Cole Long drove in a second run.
“Their hitters just did a little better job of grinding out at-bats and getting on base,” P-O head coach Doug Sankey said.
Matt Carpin went 2-for-3 for the Mounties and got them on the board with a solo home run to left that seemed to infuse his team with confidence.
After BEA’s Ben Verbitskey singled in the fourth, Cleaver came up and poked a ball to center that was caught by Carpin, who wheeled and gunned Verbitskey down at first.
Excited by the play, nearly every P-O fielder ran toward the dugout thinking the inning was over. They had to wait until the next batter was retired by starter Curtis Matsko (1-2) before they could complete the trek to the dugout.
“Matsko, we found a pitcher this year and next year,” Sankey said. “Man, he battles.”
The momentum seemed to switch as P-O charged boisterously into its dugout while BEA walked solemnly to the field.
The Mounties would tie the game in the bottom half after Nick Gray singled, stole second and moved to third on one of Cleaver’s three wild pitches.
Gray would later score on a Caleb Pepperday single up the middle through the box.
However, like playoff teams tend to do, BEA escaped with just one blemish, which also means P-O, like rebuilding teams tend to do, couldn’t capitalize further.
The Eagles reclaimed the momentum and the game in the top of the fifth when Gage Gardner (2-for-3) led off with a two-strike single up the middle.
After the senior stole second, Bryan Greene bunted for a single that left runners at the corners. After Greene also nabbed second, Reese hit a short pop fly to the edge of the infield grass that forced second baseman Travis Arnold to make an over-the-shoulder catch.
Gardner took advantage of Arnold’s momentum, tagged and scored from third.
Bryan Greene would later score on a wild pitch by Matsko.
With a lead in hand, Cleaver settled down. The junior, who likes to work fast, lost location early because of his pace. He learned.
“After I started to get into trouble, I tried to slow it down a little bit,” Cleaver said.
He said a quick rhythm helps him stay in a groove, but after the home run he had to adapt.
“I’ve given up home runs before,” Cleaver said. “It’s not the first and sure won’t be the last I’ll ever give up. But I realized I needed to locate a little better and work the ball down.”
Meanwhile, an anxious P-O team, unaccustomed to winning close games, lunged quickly at the plate.
“We’re playing better,” Sankey said. “We need to find another stick. We’re really struggling 5 through 9 (in the batting order).
“We just have to find a way to win. When we do hopefully it puts the light switch on for us … Hopefully these guys are learning.”
Sankey said he was happy with his pitchers. Pepperday relieved Matsko after he walked two.
The southpaw eventually sutured the bleeding and escaped unscathed after walking the bases loaded.
However, BEA would add another run in the seventh.
That’s where Cleaver found his best stuff, motivated not by acclaim, but rather fear.
“I went 3-0 (to Shaw) and I knew two of our guys were already out here warming up so I figured if I walked him I was coming out of the game and that was the last thing I wanted to do so I figured I better start throwing strikes.”
He ended the game with a strike out.
BEA travels to Hollidaysburg on Wednesday, while P-O hosts Central.
P-O can only hope to learn from the loss. A final comment from Cleaver illuminated perhaps one more lesson for the Eagles.
“We’re playing good baseball, sticking in games and not getting down,” Cleaver said. “(We) just have to try not to get too high.”