Taylor, Clarence Mounties complete sweep of Howard in championship series

Clarence’s Justin Taylor left his mark on the Centre County Baseball League this season.

Taylor first joined the Mounties when he was a junior at Bald Eagle Area High School and played off and on throughout his career at California (Pa.) University. This year was his first full summer in the league.

He was a driving force for the Mounties offensively, leading the team in RBIs as it rolled through the regular season to earn the top seed in the playoffs. He came through in big games on the mound during the playoffs, helping Clarence sweep both of its series.

The right-hander pitched a complete game to lead the Mounties to a 5-1 win over the Howard Hawks to finish a sweep to clinch the championship Tuesday night.

“This is what I live for,” said Taylor, who has played seven years in the league. “I love the game of baseball. I love these guys. These guys are awesome.”

Taylor struck out seven — all in the final four innings — in the complete-game effort. He allowed five hits in the win.

It capped a dominant season for the Mounties.

Clarence finished the regular season with just two losses, swept Spring Mills in the semifinals and took care of Howard in three games in the championship series.

As the Mounties celebrated, Howard assistant coach Jim Gardner struggled to contain his emotions.

Gardner was proud of both teams.

The Mounties and Hawks draw most of their players from Bald Eagle Area, where Gardner is the high school baseball coach. He said he coached all but one Clarence player — some helped the Eagles capture the PIAA title in 2007 — and he is still really close with his former players.

“It’s all my boys here,” Gardner said.

Taylor got the best of his former coach’s County League team Tuesday.

The Hawks couldn’t break through against Taylor after tying the game on Dan Cole’s RBI single in the top of the fourth inning. Howard had the bases loaded with one out in the inning, but the Clarence right-hander recorded back-to-back strikeouts to keep his team tied.

“We weren’t able to get the clutch hit,” Gardner said. “And Justin seemed to get stronger as the game went on.”

Taylor started the fifth inning with back-to-back strikeouts and added two more strikeouts in the sixth.

“When he gets into that zone like that, he’s locked in, he’s an absolute savage,” Clarence coach Rob Gavlock said.

Taylor was part of Bald Eagle Area’s run to the state title in 2007.

He was in eighth grade and served as a manager that season.

Now, he’s teammates and best friends with some of the players who led the Eagles to through the state playoffs.

Ryan MacNamara, one of the standouts on that team, drove in what proved to be the game-winning run Tuesday.

After Justin Koleno led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a double down the left field line, MacNamara sent a ground ball down the first base line.

“I didn’t really know where it was going to go,” MacNamara said. “Once I saw the chalk fly, obviously I took off.”

It bounced into right field, and MacNamara had an RBI double.

Clarence led 2-1.

The Mounties added another run on an RBI single by Chuck Probst before adding two more runs in the sixth to build a 5-1 lead for Taylor.

The right-hander retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced to seal the championship-clinching win.

“It’s what we have to play for now,” Taylor said. “We can’t go back to college, we can’t go back to high school and suit up again. So every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, we’re here, we’re happy.

“We’re going to compete, we’re going to have fun doing it and at the beginning of the year, just like every other year, this is what our goal is.”

Ryne Gery: 814-231-4679, @rgery