Offense has been a struggle all season long for State College and heading into the bottom half of the second inning, the Little Lions knew they had to break out the lumber.
After allowing No. 4 Altoona to plate one in the top of the second inning, the top-seeded Little Lions came right back and with a little help, took the lead en route to a 5-4 win — one that put them in the District 6 AAAA Final against the Central Mountain-Mifflin County winner.
A leadoff single by junior designated hitter Sam Plafcan in the bottom of the second inning gave the Little Lions a base runner and something work with. A sacrifice bunt got Plafcan to second base with one out, but it appeared that was all the further he was going to trot after a strike out. A once prosperous start quickly turned glum.
That is, until Alec Lose stepped to the dish. The senior left fielder lined a RBI single to center field and allowed Plafcan to come home and tie the game at 2-all. A little help from an error on the Mountain Lions’ first baseman on a routine ground ball paired with a RBI double by the Little Lions’ Derek Van Horn allowed the home squad to snag a 4-2 lead after the second inning.
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The Little Lions allowed the Mountain Lions to tie the game again in the top of the third, but put things away in the bottom half of the frame with a sacrifice fly by Plafcan, another unearned run that the Mountain Lions allowed to touch home.
“To be honest the defense let us down there and we should have been out of that second inning,” the Mountain Lions’ coach Tom Smith said. “That definitely became magnified then when you lose a 5-4 game and I know we gave them three unearned runs, but that inning when they scored three runs with two outs, that was tough.”
Both team’s pitchers settled down on the mound after the third inning and made things difficult for batters to generate any type of offense. Unfortunately for the Mountain Lions’ Trentin Martin, the damage had already been done and even though he only allowed one hit the rest of the way, his squad could not bail him out.
Bill Tussey, the Little Lions’ head coach trusted his starter Bailey Ishler to go four innings before he handed the ball over to Keith Lebarron with a one run lead. Lebarron shut the door on any hopes the Mountain Lions had of coming back and helped Ishler pick up his fifth victory of the season.
“You knock on wood, you always go into a game with that plan where your starter keeps you in the game and you can bring that second guy in to kind of close the door and (Thursday) that worked,” Tussey said. “I give kudos to both of them, they did what they had to do.”
Now as the Little Lions look to move forward and once again capture the District 6 AAAA crown, they know that tightening up is going to be essential to future success.
Tussey was pleased with his squad’s defensive efforts, but is aware that big innings will not likely come as the playoffs unfold and wants to see improvement from his pitchers moving forward.
“Our pitching has to get a little bit tougher, we had two leadoff walks to start innings and those were two of the four runs,” Tussey said. “Down the road that’s going to hurt us. If the pitching gets just a little tighter, that’s what we’re going to need.”