BROOKVILLE — Back in the Federation League playoff finals for the first time since 2012, the Brookville Grays can certainly say they’ve done it with pitching.
On the strength of their third shutout win of the series, the Grays put away the Pulaski Generals in five games of their best-of-seven set with a 2-0 win Thursday night as Tanner Klein tossed a three-hitter.
Klein struck out eight, hit one batter and didn’t walk anyone as he joined staffers Sam Leadbetter and Glenn Stewart as the Grays trio of hurlers who tossed shutouts against a young and talented Generals lineup that knocked five-time defending champion Sykesville out in the first round.
The Grays are older, but not a veteran team by any stretch. The 22-year-old Klein, a 2013 Clarion High School graduate who just finished college at Mansfield University this spring, has played with the Grays since he was 15. He threw 90 pitches and was overpowering with a heavy fastball mixed with his effective off-speed pitches that kept the Generals at bay all night.
“I was worried this entire game and all afternoon. I didn’t know whether to throw Rob Jewett or Klein and the team wanted to throw Klein, so I had Jewett ready and it worked out,” Grays longtime manager Bob McCullough said. “He wanted the ball (Wednesday) and I didn’t believe him. But now I’m a believer. Now, I got to start looking for a pitcher.”
The Grays won’t start their final series against either Kersey or Rossiter until at least Tuesday now since the Kings beat the Miners, 4-2, to cut the Miners’ series lead to 3-2 with Game 6 set for Saturday. A seventh game, if necessary, would be Sunday so most likely the Grays won’t play again until Tuesday regardless of how the other series ends.
Even Klein could be ready again by Tuesday.
“It’s definitely the best I’ve pitched in the Fed League this year,” Klein said. “In college, I was on a heavy load and if the arm was there I was good, so it was my best since early in the college season. Nort (catcher Nathan Bonfardine) did a good job keeping them off-balance. There were only a few times tonight I even shook him off, maybe twice.”
Klein was busy at Mansfield, playing in every game for the 20-30 Mounties and hitting a second-best .317. On the mound, he was 4-5 in 11 appearances with a 5.62 earned run average in 49 2/3 innings.
“It was a lot of mixing up and working backwards,” said Bonfardine, who along with Klein started playing with the Grays the summer of 2011 after their sophomore year in high school. “We were playing mind games with them. His fastball is outstanding and his off-speed stuff is tough to beat. It’s overwhelming trying to look for an off-speed pitch when it’s coming at you.
“The last few games, our pitching has been outstanding.”
And Bonfardine had a strong series at the plate, going 9-for-15 (.667). He wasn’t involved in the Grays’ scoring in this one, but did single to lead off the sixth. He reached on a two-out error in the third.
The game’s lone two runs both came in the second inning and Klein was involved in that rally as well. Jed Fiscus singled to lead off the winning and Klein walked. Sam Leadbetter tried to bunt them over, but his popup into foul territory was snared on an outstanding diving play by Generals catcher Adam Bankovich.
Nick Bishop’s grounder to second was misplayed by Mike Misiewicz, allowing Fiscus to score from second. Then with Dane Lyle up, the Grays executed a delayed double steal of home as the throw to get Bishop at second gave Klein just enough time to beat the throw back to the plate.
Klein doubled to left-center lead off the fourth, but didn’t score.
Meanwhile, Klein was dominant on the mound, striking out four of the first six batters he faced, including the side in the second inning. He pitched to the minimum nine batters through three, getting an inning-ending double play in the third inning.
In the fourth, Phil Myers and Drew Bankovich reached on infield errors with one out, but Klein whiffed Nick Labrasca and Jackson Frank to end the threat. In the fifth, Ty Bittner lined a shot off Klein and reached on an infield single to start the inning and Klein hit Adam Bankovich, but he retired the next three batters to end that rally.
From there, Klein retired six of the final seven batters to secure the win.
Bittner had two of the Generals’ three hits, adding a bloop single to right with one out in the seventh. Adam Bankovich led off the third with a single to left field.
Generals starter Rick Lines was the tough-luck losing pitcher, allowing just three hits himself. He struck out four and walked three. One of the Grays’ two runs were unearned.