BROOKVILLE — After struggling through a 6-14 regular season, the last-place Brookville Grays have won eight playoff games in less than three weeks.
Doing their math, that means the Grays are up 2-0 now in the best-of-seven Federation League Championship series against the Pulaski Generals. Led by another brilliant pitching outing, this time a two-hitter by Joe Lopez in a 3-0 shutout win at McKinley Field Saturday afternoon, an unlikely run to a title is close at hand for veteran head coach.
“I didn’t expect to get here,” said Grays manager Bob McCullough. “When we were playing during the year and how we were playing, I knew we’d make the playoffs because everybody does, but it would be over in a heartbeat. But here we are.
“It’s been stressful and we had to pick guys off the street, but it’s a good finish to a bad start.”
The series resumes Monday at Showers Field, which wasn’t available Sunday. That means four straight days of games, if necessary, with Tuesday back in McKinley for game four. Wednesday and Thursday, at DuBois and Brookville respectively, are on the schedule, if needed.w
Lopez, who usually closes games if needed and had two saves and one win in relief in the postseason going into Saturday, needed just 70 pitches to complete his gem. 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 Colin 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 graduate who struck out seven and walked four.