Little League: State College National battles back to capture District 5 title over Tri-County

After lightning and torrential rains halted play in the District 5 11-12 Little League Championship game on Wednesday night in the top of the fifth inning, play resumed Thursday evening at Montressor Field in State College.

The wait was well worth it for fans in attendance.

State College National showed offensive flashes that carried it to this stage of the tournament on Wednesday. Jack Mangene started National off with a lead-off double, and was brought home by the game’s second batter David Shoemaker. Shoemaker reached third on the play on a Tri-County error and was brought home by the next batter, Neil Singer, who grounded into a fielder’s choice to third. After the next two batters were retired, National took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the first where starting pitcher Shoemaker retired the side in order.

In the top of the second, State College manufactured a run by playing small ball. Tyler Gulley led off the inning with a base hit, and reached second on a wild pitch. He moved to third when Trenton Decker hit into a fielder’s choice and subsequently scored on a Ryan Battista sacrifice fly to right making the score 3-0.

Tri-County couldn’t be kept off the board for long as Parker Mitchell led off the bottom of the second with a single.

Back-to-back doubles by Blake Roberts and Ethan Moore made the score 3-2. Moore reached third when Trevor Beck grounded out to second and Tom Bucha walked. Tri County continued its aggressive play on the basepaths, as a double steal was on and Moore tied the game after National catcher Neil Singer’s throw went to second base.

On Thursday, the top of the fifth ended without incident and in the bottom of the frame Tri-County took the lead after back-to-back doubles by Tom Bucha and Tanner Kuruzovich put the team in front 4-3.

After Kuruzovich got to third on a Jamison Burkett single, Mangene, who had come in to relieve Shoemaker, struck out the next two batters. With two outs in the inning, and in desperate need of a force out to stop the rally, State College National’s coaching staff made the call to intentionally walk Mitchell to load the bases. But Mangene remained stingy, getting Blake Roberts to hit a sharp ground ball to the shortstop, who scooped up the ball and flipped it to Battista at second to end the threat.

“I was scared out of my mind,” said a grinning Mangene about the jam he had gotten himself into. “I knew I had to knuckle down.”

Down one run, and with its season on the line, State College National once again resorted to small ball to get the job done.

Jack Singer led the inning with a sharply hit single to right, followed by a heady infield single by Jarrett Beyer. A Kevin Karsetter walk loaded the basis with no outs and National was in business. Tanner Gulley was the next better, and a chopper to second saw Singer beat the throw home, and the game was knotted at four apiece.

A wild pitch to Trenton Decker looked like it would score Beyer, but Tri-County was able to get the ball back to the plate and tag Beyer to record the inning’s first out. On the play, Karsetter and Gulley moved up a base to put runners on second and third. Two pitches later, Decker hit a chopper to the second baseman Roberts, who threw to first to get the inning’s second out, but not before Karstetter was able to cross the plate to give National the lead.

In what would prove to be the difference, Gulley aggressively sprinted home. The throw to the plate wasn’t in time and National took a 6-4 lead into the bottom of the sixth.

Tri-County first baseman Ethan Moore led-off the bottom of the inning with a massive solo home-run to right field for his second RBI of the game, making anyone wearing State College National’s maroon feel a bit uneasy. After two sharply hit ground balls to second and shortstop consecutively resulted in outs, Tri-County was down to its final out of the tournament.

Kuruzovich was up next and he was able to leg out an infield single on a close play at first. The play was so close, in fact, that a few of the State College players believed the game was over and tossed their gloves in the air in celebration. After an appeal from the National bench, the call was upheld, and Tri-County still had life.

But once again, Shoemaker went into lock-down mode, getting Cole Urbas to hit a ground ball to Karstetter at third. He calmly whipped the ball to second baseman Ryan Battista who stomped on the bag and give State College National the District title.

“We played the baseball we’re capable of playing,” State College manager Jeff Shoemaker said. “Tri-County is a special group of kids. We scrimmaged them in the pre-season. We know what they’re capable of.”

“The offense came up big, and Jack closed it out,” starting pitcher David Shoemaker said. “We pick each other up. We’re like a family.”

Tri-County features players from Port Matilda and Julian areas in Centre County, Warriors Mark in Huntingdon County and Bald Eagle in Blair County.

“We had a great year,” an emotional Chip Lehman, Tri-County manager, said following the game. “I’m proud of these guys win or lose. You couldn’t ask for a better group of kids and their families.”