DuBOIS — Moving to within one win of a finals sweep of the Brookville Grays, the DuBois Rockets went into Wednesday looking for their second Federation League title in three years.
Last year, the unlikely championship run by the Grays included a semifinal series win over the Rockets. This year, it’s looking like the Rockets are on the verge of some revenge.
Wednesday’s game was scheduled for McKinley Field with a fifth game, if necessary, set for DuBois Central Catholic at 6 p.m.
Games six and seven, also if necessary, are Saturday and Sunday.
Tuesday at Showers Field, the Rockets broke open a 2-1 deficit with a five-run bottom of the third inning on their way to a 6-2 win.
In the third, the Rockets’ Clayton Read got things started by dropping the first pitch he saw into center field for a single before Dan Stauffer reached on a walk, as he was replaced at first by courtesy runner Thayne Morgan.
Sean Sleigh followed by driving a single to left, as Gasbarre was originally going to hold Read at third, but a bobble in left field allowed him to send Read, who beat the throw home for the tying run while Morgan took third on the throw to the plate.
After Grays starting pitcher Thomas Plummer recorded a strikeout for the first out of the inning, Cory Lehman kept the inning rolling with a bloop single to left to bring home Morgan.
Next up was Josh Sorbera, as he hit a grounder to second, but was able to beat out the throw to prevent an inning-ending double play.
Zane Morgan then drove a single into right field to put chase home Sleigh and put runners on the corners with two outs, as Zane Morgan then stole second to put a pair of runners in scoring position.
Nine hole hitter Chris Calliari then delivered a second straight two-out RBI hit, providing the final blow of the frame with a 2-RBI single into left-center to score Sorbera and Zane Morgan to make it a 6-2
After surrendering a pair of runs on three hits over the first three innings, Rockets starter Braiden Blair then shut Brookville down over the next three innings working with the four-run lead.
Blair faced just one over the minimum in innings four through six, as he walked one in each the fourth and sixth, but got an inning-ending double play in the sixth, as he snared a line drive off the bat of Thomas Plummer before tossing to first to end the frame.
The DuBois starter gave way to Jake Sorbera in the seventh inning, as he finished with two runs allowed on three hits over six innings while walking four and striking out three.
It was Blair’s third win of the year over the Grays after two wins during the regular season.
The Grays were able to manufacture a run in the top of the first inning to take the early lead, as Chase Palmer led off with a single to center field before moving to second on a sacrifice bunt laid down by Joey Lopez.
Aaron Park then came through with an RBI single to right field to score Palmer for the game’s first run.
The Grays grabbed a short-lived 2-1 lead in the top of the third when Chase Palmer walked and came around to score on Nathan Bonvardine’s forceout grounder.
Joey Lopez and Jamison Rhoades finished out the game on the mound for the Grays.
In the first two finals games:
SUNDAY, July 26
Rockets 4, Grays 1
At McKinley Field, another strong Rockets pitching performance led the way as they grabbed their second win of the series.
Veteran right-hander T.J. Gornati needed 72 pitches to get to the seventh inning plus one batter before Dan Stauffer relieved him to get the save, inducing Nathan Bonfardine to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded.
Two solo home runs from Justin Sleigh and Zane Morgan was enough for the Rockets, who also scratched two more runs across, all of them coming after the Grays’ lone run in the bottom of the first inning.
Gornati scrambled through a 25-pitch inning, taking blame for not fielding a Joey Lopez bunt down the first-base line properly after walking Thomas Plummer to start the inning. With two outs, Drew Celis singled in Plummer.
“I put myself into too many holes today, but knowing that with this team can do and you have a great defense behind you, you’re always one pitch away,” said Gornati, the former St. Marys Dutch standout who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2004 and played three seasons in the minors.
The Rockets scored runs in four different innings after the first. Sleigh ripped a line drive off Grays pitcher Kane McCall to start the inning, then left the bases loaded. In the third, singles by Stauffer, Sean Sleigh and Cory Lehman set up Josh Sorbera’s sacrifice fly.
In the sixth, Morgan ripped another McCall offering over the left field fence to put the Rockets up 3-1.
Morgan then singled in a run with two outs in the seventh to make it 4-1. Cory Lehman singled with two outs to start the rally before Sorbera was hit by a pitch. Lehman beat Grays’ centerfielder Thomas Plummer’s throw to the plate on a close play.
“Kane is a really good pitcher and we’ve seen two good pitchers so far, so we all know what we have to do and have good approach at the plate,” said Morgan, who was 3-for-4. “(McCall) struck me out with three fastballs in the third inning, three above my hands, so I figured he’s going to come back with a fastball, because the ball I hit the double (in the second inning) was a slider. I figured I just saw three fastball straight above my hands and figured they remembered that, so I was just sitting fastball on the home run.”
The Grays threatened in the fourth, putting two on with one out on singles by Park and Hunter Geer, but Gornati got two flyouts to end the inning. In the fifth, Gornati got Park on a comebacker with two runners on.
In the seventh, Palmer led off with an infield single and Nieman followed by blooping a single into center. With Plummer up, Stauffer, still catching, picked off Palmer at second base for the first out. Plummer reached on an infield single.
Stauffer relieved Gornati and walked Joey Lopez to load the bases. But he got No. 3 hitter Nathan Bonfardine to ground to third base to start the game-ending double play.
SATURDAY, July 25
At Showers Field, Rockets pitcher Brandon Orsich tossed a one-hitter while walking one, striking out six and facing one more batter than the minimum in the series opener.
The lone hit was Brady Caylor’s two-out infield single in the second inning. Orsich walked Thomas Plummer to lead off the fifth in what wound up an efficient 71-pitch outing.
“Orsich had the best stuff I’ve seen him have in two years I think,” Rockets manager Jeff Gasbarre said. “Everything was working, his command was on point and he fired strikes all day and threw four pitches and kept everybody off balance.”
The Rockets scored all three of their runs in the fifth inning. After Tanner Klein allowed just one hit with two walks and a hit batter in the first four innings, he walked Josh Sorbera to lead off the fifth. Joey Lopez relieved Klein and a wild pitch allowed Sorbera to reach second before pinch-runner Chris Calliari replaced him.
Zane Morgan bunted to an aggressively charging first baseman Tanner LaBenne, who tagged out Morgan then threw to third just late trying to get Calliari. With the infield in, Thayne Morgan’s chopper to shortstop Brady Caylor was mishandled, allowing Calliari to score.
Garrett Brown’s perfectly executed hit-and-run single through the vacated right side of the infield pushed Thayne Morgan to third and after a walk to Clayton Read, Dan Stauffer singled in Morgana. The Grays couldn’t turn an inning-ending double play on Sean Sleigh’s grounder to shortstop, allowing Brown to scamper home for the third run.
“To be able to break through and get some things going without the benefit of a base hit was huge,” Gasbarre said. “Playing small ball worked really well for us today.”
Courier-Express sports writer Craig Moyer contributed to this story.