BY TIM TAYLOR
Valley Sports Report
WELLSBORO — Baseball is a game of offense, defense and pitching. If you are solid in those three aspects chances are you will field a pretty competitive team.
That's just what Hollidaysburg did as it defeated Athens, 14-0, in five innings in the first round of the 2019 Little League Pennsylvania 8- to 10-year-old State Championship here Wednesday.
Only five of the Tigers' runs were earned, but they cranked out 12 hits and took advantage of six Athens errors to support the combined one-hit pitching of a four-man staff.
Momentum can play a role in baseball as well, and Hollidaysburg had that in its favor too, scoring four runs in the top of the first to set the tempo for the evening.
The Tigers picked up three hits and three walks in their first at-bats to grab a 4-0 lead.
"Momentum's everything in baseball, said Hollidaysburg head coach Jim McGough. "Being able to get out top of the first inning, get some momentum for the boys. They really thrive on that, so that was a good start for us, first game of the championship."
Athens head coach Jason Wanck wasn't worried about his team being down early, noting they've been down before.
"We've been down before. We've been down the whole sectional tournament," he said. "These kids just got tremendous heart. We had full confidence in that they would rally and it didn't scare us at all. We've been there before and we expected them to come back strong."
Athens displayed a little defensive prowess early in the game when center fielder Lucas Schultz made a strong throw home to catcher Eli Hicks to prevent what could have been another first-inning run.
Athens opened the bottom of the first on a walk by Kamdyn Wheeler, but he was erased on a fielder's choice at second.
Hollidaysburg managed just one base runner in the second and Athens recorded a double play to get out of the third unscathed. With the bases loaded, pitcher Wheeler fielded a ground ball and threw home to Connor Davidson, who alertly fired down to first to Duncan Thetga to complete the 1-2-3 DP.
Thetga drew a walk in the second, but he too was eliminated by a fielder's choice at second. However, the next time around in the fourth, he broke up Hollidaysburg's no-hit bid with a single to left.
The Tigers' early four-run advantage would hold steady until they posted another four-run surge in the fourth. Hollidaysburg sandwiched two singles between a pair of errors for a run, then scored two more following a ground out. A sacrifice fly made it 8-0.
In the fifth, a hit batter, an error and six singles (five of the hits coming consecutively) pushed the Hollidaysburg cushion to 14-0.
Graham Wanck would pick up a walk for Athens in its half of the fifth, but was stranded at first.
Braden Hatch, Mason Mierley, Vince Boland and Ty McGough combined to pitch the shutout. Mierley surrendered the lone hit, but also recorded four of the staff's nine strikeouts.
"I think pitching, being able to go deep into pitching as well, plays a major part in lot of these playoff series, whether its districts, sectionals, states," said McGough. "Being able to have some depth in pitching, it matters a lot. It's something we've worked on for a while and we were glad to get some good pitching today."
"Their pitching was nothing out of the ordinary for us," Wanck said. "I think the kids were just a little tight. The first state game. It's kind of been an emotional few days for them, celebrating, they're back home, we came here today all amped up, ready to play at 1:30 and a lot of waiting around. It's a lot for them to handle. You've got to remember they're just kids."
The game, slated to start at 1:30 p.m. was delayed more than four hours due to unplayable field conditions.
Mierley was also one of Hollidaysburg's top performers at the plate, going 3-for-4 with three runs. Hatch and Tyler Steiner collected multiple hits as well, both going 2-for-3 while driving in three runs apiece.
Athens will regroup to face Valley West, a 10-0 loser to Greater Pittson, in an elimination game at 1:30 p.m. today.
"We're proud of them," Wanck said. "We got that out of the way and we're ready to come back and play our normal ball.
"We just told them to get a good night's sleep, come back focused. If we're going to go out, we're going to go out playing our best, and I've got full confidence we're going to do that."
IN PHOTO 1: Athens' Eli Hicks. ... PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR