BROOKVILLE — With the way the threatening sky was looking and how Thomas Plummer was firing from the mound at McKinley Field with two outs in the seventh inning, it was hard to figure out what was more inevitable — an annoying rain delay or a Grays sweep of their Federation League finals series against the Pulaski Generals.
But thanks to extreme patience by the umpiring crew in a driving downpour in near darkness, Plummer got Cory Carr to fly out to Chase Palmer in center.
Sweep complete. 3-0 Grays, culminating a worst-to-first playoff run that saw the last-place Grays sweep Rossiter in a best-of-three play-in series, outlast top-seeded DuBois 4-3 in seven games and then culminating the postseason with a four-game sweep of the Generals.
Plummer’s two-hitter with 14 strikeouts and one walk was the third Grays shutout of the series. The Generals couldn’t hit him in good weather and certainly not in the dark and monsoon conditions at the end.
“It feels amazing,” said Plummer, who was 4-0 with a no-decision in the postseason overall. “There are no words that can describe how I’m feeling. I just went out there, focused on throwing strikes and let my defense do the rest.”
And at the end, just throw a strike on a 3-2 pitch to Carr with a runner on first … in the near dark.
“I’ve never been in a pitching situation like that,” said Plummer, a 2015 Clarion High School graduate who also helped Penn State DuBois win two Small College national titles. “I’ve pitched in the snow, light rain, but that was a heavy downpour. I was just trying to get the ball in, get three outs and get out of there. I told Nort (catcher Nathan Bonfardine) fastballs only because I could barely feel the ball.”
And Palmer, a junior-to-be, at Brookville this year squeezed the final out in the heavy rain and the Grays celebrated in the mud.
All of it only left 82-year-old manager Bob McCullough smiling afterward as he held the championship trophy. He was a bat boy for the first Grays team back in … 1946.
“I didn’t think we’d get this far, but I knew I had a pretty good team when I could get them on the field at the same time,” said McCullough, who batted at least five or six times during the season. “This was a special occasion getting through three series where we all showed up and played pretty well. We had some great pitching.”
The Grays outscored the Generals, 11-2, in the four games. Down 2-1 in the seventh in Game 1 in DuBois last Thursday, the Grays scored the go-ahead runs on a two-out, two-run single by Joe Lopez.
Lopez then shut out the Generals on a two-hitter last Saturday at McKinley Field, Kane McCall two-hit the Generals Monday in DuBois and then Plummer extended the Generals’ scoreless innings streak to 27 innings.
“We scrapped. Our pitchers threw strikes, didn’t walk many guys and that’s a recipe for success and as far as our bats go, we had guys contribute throughout the lineup,” said Lopez, the finals MVP after going 4-for-13 at the plate with his shutout win, a save in game one and huge defensive anchoring effort at shortstop. “Different days, different guys and it came together as a team and that’s what it takes.”
Tuesday, the Grays scored an unearned run in the first inning when Trenton Corle reached on an infield error, moved to second on a Lopez bunt and came home from second on a wild pitch with Tanner LaBenne at the plate.
Then in the fourth, LaBenne and Dustin Daihl led off with singles and a walk to Bonfardine loaded the bases with no outs. Joe Culler’s sacrifice fly to left scored LaBenne and after Dan Ion reached on an infield single, Palmer’s swinging bunt down the first-base line did the job and pushed home Daihl to make it 3-0.
That was more than enough for the dominating Plummer, who allowed a two-out single to Adam Bankovich in the first inning, a leadoff single to Jake Miknis in the fourth and walked Bankovich to start the seventh. Miknis reached second on Plummer’s errant pickoff throw in the fourth and Bankovich stole second in the seventh, but the Generals never got closer to scoring.
“It was nice to be able to work backwards on the hitters and know their tendencies from playing with and against them through the years and hitting the corners,” Bonfardine said. “It was nice having confidence with the guys on the mound.
“Undoubtedly, Thomas was painting the corners and I tried to buy him some corners. He threw a heckuva game and it was nice to seal it up.”
In the other series games:
MONDAY, Aug. 5
Grays 2, Pulaski 0
At Showers Field, Grays used another dominant pitcher performance and a big day at the plate from Dustin Daihl to upend Pulaski, 2-0, to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
It was Kane McCall’s turn to sparkle on the mound matched as he tossed the second straight two-hit shutout. And, both those hits were infield singles.
McCall struck out five while walking two and hitting three batters. The effort was McCall’s third complete-game victory in the Fed League playoffs, and he allowed three hits or less in an all three.
Daihl provided all the offense McCall needed as he went 2-for-3 with a double, triple, RBI and run scored. Brookville finished with seven hits overall, with Chase Palmer joining Daihl in having two hits.
The Grays scored in the fourth when Daihl blasting a leadoff triple to left-center. Nate Bonfardine followed with a fly ball to right that plated Daihl, who dove head-first into the plate around the diving tag attempt of catcher Bankovich.
Leadbetter and palmer later singled with two outs to restart the rally, but Blair struck out Dan Ion for the final out to limit the damage to one run.
Pulaski tried to answer back in the bottom of the fourth when Frank was hit by a pitch with two outs and Shane Price followed with a walk. McCall worked out of trouble, getting Colin Read to hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Brookville then added to its lead in the fifth. Corle drew a leadoff walk, spelling the end for Blair. The lefty allowed two runs, on earned, on four hits while striking out four and walking two.
Another lefty, Corey Carr, came on in relief and quickly got two outs. A failed pickoff attempt by Carr during that sequence did help Corle to reach third before Daihl delivered a clutch two-out double to left to plate Corle to make it a 2-0 game.
Pulaski recorded its first hit in the bottom of the fifth with two outs when Jake Miknis ripped a pitch back up the middle that deflected off McCall. The ball got far enough away that Miknis reached first safely, while a late, errant throw by McCall allowed Miknis to go to second.
The miscue didn’t hurt McCall as he got Bankovich to foul to Tanner LaBenne at first for the final out in the inning.
Carr then tossed a scoreless sixth and seventh to help keep Pulaski in the game, but the Generals just couldn’t get its offense going against McCall. Carr gave up three hits and struck out two.
SATURDAY, Aug. 3
Grays 3, Pulaski 0
At McKinley Field, Joe Lopez tossed a two-hit shutout in his first start of the season as he needed just 70 pitches and 73 minutes to blank the Generals.
He allowed just two baserunners on a one-out single by Ryan Pasternak in the fifth inning and Corey Bookhamer’s one-out single in the seventh.
Lopez worked an effective fastball, cutter and changeup combination, retiring the first 13 batters he faced before Pasternak singled through the right side in the fifth. He struck out seven with no walks.
“I was just working with (catcher) Drew (Beichner) and he did a nice job working behind the dish on pitches,” said Lopez, a Blackhawk High School graduate who played baseball at Clarion University. “I was throwing strikes and letting my defense work. That’s as fast as I’ve worked, not throwing the ball around, and I think that was pretty effective against them. I kind of rushed them into the box and attacked.”
McCullough wasn’t sure what he was hearing during pre-game batting practice, but he wasn’t doubting what Lopez was going to do when the game started.
“I talked to him beforehand and I thought he was going to be OK for this game, but when I was out there throwing batting practice before the game, he came out and wanted to throw batting practice. He did to 10 or 15 people. He said it helped him get loose, because he felt tight today.”
It obviously got him loose, as the team’s regular shortstop kept the Generals off the board.
“If I had to pick an MVP of this team, that’s who I’d pick,” McCullough said. “He’s come through in the clutch a lot. He’s the anchor.”
The game’s only runs all came in the fourth inning as the Grays pushed across three runs against Generals starter Corey Bookhamer. Dustin Daihl led off with a walk and moved to second on Thomas Plummer’s bunt. Joe Culler bounced a single through the middle to score Daihl. After Jared Hetrick walked, Dan Ion singled in Culler from second.
Beichner followed with a bouncer back to Bookhamer, who turned and fired to second to start a possible double play, but shortstop Collin Read’s throw to first got away and allowed Hetrick to score to make it 3-0.
That was more than enough as it turned out for the Grays with Lopez filling up the strike zone.
Lopez singled in the first inning and Culler led off with a single in the sixth for the Grays’ only other hits off Bookhamer, the Clearfield native who struck out seven and walked four.
THURSDAY, Aug. 1
Grays 3, Pulaski 2
At City Field’s Stern Park, a two-out, two-run single by Joe Lopez in the top of the seventh lifted Brookville to a 3-2 win in the series opener.
The fifth-seeded Grays were held scoreless into the sixth inning by Pulaski starter Phil Myers, before breaking through with a run in the sixth to get within a run. Brookville then plated a pair in the seventh to secure the come-from-behind win.
Down 2-0 after two first-inning runs for Pulaski off Grays starter Sam Leadbetter, the Grays got on the board in the sixth when Dan Ion led off with a single to center field.
After Lopez grounded out to third to move Ion up to second, LaBenne recorded his second hit of the game, singling into left-center field to plate Ion and cut the deficit in half, as LaBenne was thrown out attempting to stretch his single into a double.
Leadbetter then retired the side in order in the home half of the sixth as Pulaski took a 2-1 lead into the seventh.
After a strikeout started the Grays’ half of the seventh, Joe Culler got the rally started with a single to right before being replaced by pinch runner Kane McCall.
Plummer then came just short of a two-run homer to left, hitting a pitch off the fence for a double to put runners at second and third with still just one out.
Leadbetter then reached on a walk to load the bases, but Myers responded by striking out the following batter as Brookville found itself down to its last out.
Lopez then came through with the big hit, singling into left-center to score McCall for the tying as Plummer beat the throw home to score the go-ahead run.
Dustin Daihl then reached on a walk to load the bases again, but Myers was able to limit the damage by forcing the following batter to fly out to center.
After a pair of groundouts started the bottom of the seventh for the Generals, Myers took a full-count pitch off the plate to reach on a two-out walk.
With Bankovich at the plate, Leadbetter’s first pitch was off the mark as Brookville then turned to Lopez on the mound.
Bankovich eventually worked a walk before Miknis drew a third straight walk to load the bases for Bookhamer with the tying run at third and winning run at second.
Lopez then closed out the win by getting Bookhamer to hit a routine ground ball to second as the Grays took the first game of the series on the road.
Leadbetter went 6 2/3 innings, giving up six hits and two runs, both unearned, with four strikeouts and one walk before Lopez got the final out for the save.
Courier-Express Sports Editor Chris Wechtenhiser and Sports Writer Craig Moyer contributed to this story.