BROOKVILLE — The DuBois Minor League All-Star baseman team entered Friday’s Section 1 championship game with its back against the proverbial wall as it was without the services of a couple of its best pitchers — and its manager — needing to win twice.
None of that seemed to phase DuBois, as it gave Clarion all it could handle and them some while leading most of the night at Zufall Field. DuBois took a four-run lead into the bottom of the sixth only to see Clarion stage a comeback and score five times to pull out a wild 19-18 victory to capture the Section 1 title and advance to states.
The crazy game featured a combined 33 hits, 22 walks and 11 errors, but oddly enough came down to pitching in the final two innings.
And, the deciding factor in that stretch proved to be Clarion’s Alex Love, who silenced the DuBois bats over the last two innings after the District 10 champs had scored 17 runs on 16 hits through four innings.
Love allowed just one unearned run on one hit between the fifth and sixth innings to give his team a chance to win it in its final at-bat.
And, that’s exactly what Clarion did, using patience at the plate as a trio of DuBois pitchers struggled to find the strike zone after reliever Ryan Woodel hit the 75-pitch limit. Woodel helped keep Clarion in check with 3 1/3 strong innings of work after the D-25 champs had scored 14 runs off DuBois’ starter.
Clarion hitters worked seven walks around an infeld single in the bottom of the sixth to pull out the win and avoid having to play the if-necessary game. Casey Kemmer, Eli Nellis and Paul Craig all drew bases-loaded walks to help tie the game before a walk by Parker Miller forced home the game-winning run.
Nellis, Craig and Miller were key parts of the Clarion offense all night long a they combined for nine hits, nine RBIs and nine runs scored.
Craig was 4-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs, while Nellis was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and five runs. Miller finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs and one run scored.
“The kids were really focused on a goal of being sectional champs, and they have worked hard for that since we lost in the championship game last year (to DuBois in Meadville),” said Clarion manager Luke Huwar. “So, I couldn’t be happier for them to accomplish their goal.
“DuBois battled and gave us everything we could handle and more. They were in a bind there at the end of game and had I think four pitchers who couldn’t throw today. They went through five today while having to keep their focus on a possible next game. So, they were in a tough spot, but my kids came in there and made them work for everything and we manufactured a few runs late without pounding the ball.
“Hitting patience is one the best things we’ve done. Even when we are hitting the ball, we’re getting deep into the count and making pitchers work for it. We’re not chasing pitches out of the zone.
“Heading into states, I’d like us to get away from games likes this and play more like we did our other games — which is playing more fundamental baseball. If we don’t settle down and get that corrected back to the way we were, I think the competition at states will be tough to handle.”
DuBois opened the scoring with a three-run top of the first.
DuBois loaded the bases with one out on walks by Wes Clyde, Keegan Gregory and Hunter Ho. Isaac Dennison had a RBI single, while Brody Knouse plated two runs on a double. Unfortunately for DuBois, it had two runners thrown out around third base or the inning could have been bigger.
Clarion answered right back with three runs of its own in the bottom of the inning.
Clarion coupled four hits with two errors in the inning, with the lone RBI coming when Kemmer was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to even things at 3-3.
DuBois came right back with three runs in the top of the second, getting RBI singles from Clyde and Ho and a RBI groundout by pinch-hitter Jackson McCall.
The back-and-forth battle continued in the bottom of the second as Clarion took its first lead with a four-run inning.
Clarion, which scored a run on an error in the outfield, got a RBI single from Miller in the second while while Ethan rex and Liam Huwar each scored runs on groundout. Huwar’s RBI put Clarion up 7-6.
That lead was short-lived though, as DuBois pushed six runs across the plate in the third. DuBois had five hits in the inning around three Clarion errors to goback on top 12-7.
DuBois scored its first two runs on error in the frame. Keegan Gregory then plated a run with a single, while a double from Seth Wilmoth brought home another. Hunter Ho capped the rally with a two-run single.
Clarion countered with a four-run bottom of the third to get back within a run at 12-11.
Kemmer and Love ignited the inning with a single and double, respectively, while Nellis, Craig and Miller each had RBI singles.
The offensive onslaught continued in the fifth with DuBois scoring five more runs to extend its lead to 17-11.
Bryson Kail and Woodel got things started with one-out singles. Clyde followed with a double to score Kail, while Greogry plated Woodel with a single to center. Wilmoth then beat out an infield that scored Clyde.
Ho kept the inning going with a RBI single, with Wilmoth also scoring on the play on an error in the outfield.
DuBois appeared to score a sixth run in the inning when Knouse singled home Ho and Drahushak went first to third. However, Clarion appealed that Drahushak missed second base, and umpires ruled he did — thus ending the inning with the final out.
Ho’s run was initially counted, but a returned phone call from Little League officials determined the run didn’t count as the appeal was a force play. That ruling was announced during the bottom of the fourth and put DuBois back to 17 runs.
Meanwhile, Clarion scored four runs during that bottom of the fourth to pull within three runs at 17-14. And, it did so without a hit as five walks and a sacrifice fly produced the trio of runs.
DuBois plated its final run in in the fifth when Woodel reached on a one-out error and later scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Wilmoth to make it 18-14.
That set the stage for the final inning-plus where Woodel and Love each put together scoreless half innings — bottom of fifth and top of sixth, respectively — before Clarion staged its comeback in the bottom of the sixth.
Clyde and Ho each went 3-for-4 in the game for DuBois. Ho had four RBIs, while Clyde had two RBIs and four runs.
Gregory, Wilmoth and Knouse all had two hits, with Wilmoth driving in three runs and Gregory and Knouse two. Gregory and Wilmoth also scored twice.
“You couldn’t be more proud of a great group of kids,” said DuBois coach Pat Dennison. “They showed heart under some tough situations, and they battled hard today. I’ve bene around baseball a lor of year, and this is one of the best group of kids Ive ver been around. They get along and all support each other through the good times and bad times.
“The cool thing about it, when they look back on this experience, I can think of a time when each and everyone of them had their special moment that they all will remember. When it’s all said and done, that’s what it is all about.
“Coach (Mike) Gregory and Coach (Bill) Drahushak have preached to the team that it takes all 13 players to be successful, and the kids proved them right throughout this postseason. We just came up a little short tonight.”
Next up for Clarion is a trip to state tournament, which begins Wednesday in Wellsboro.