CLEARFIELD – As hosts of the Pennsylvania American Legion Region 7 Tournament, the Clearfield Chiefs aren’t being too kind to their guests.
Tuesday afternoon, State College’s Central Penn League champions became the latest visitors to be treated rather rudely.
Clearfield (20-14) pulled off the shocker of the double-elimination tourney behind terrific pitching by Corey Bookhamer and Chad Zurat and multi-run homers by Justin Hoffman and Andrew Redden, nipping the previously-unbeaten invaders 6-5 at the Lawrence Township Recreation Park Field.
So, one of the teams nobody projected to be lacing up the spikes on championship Wednesday will be doing just that for the 11 a.m. semifinal against Homer City (18-9), which eliminated Claysburg 8-6. The Indiana County League kingpins beat Clearfield 12-5 in the second round.
As the last team to lose, State College (33-8) advances to the title game that will be played shortly after the morning game ends.
It’s doubtful more excitement and drama can be packed into that twinbill than Clearfield’s tension-filled victory that went right down to the last pitch, a beauty that might have been the best cutter Zurat ever has thrown.
Trey Nicosia, who had clouted his third home run of the tourney for State College’s first two runs in the third inning, couldn’t pull the trigger on the 3-2 offering with the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
About 24 hours after jolting DuBois 8-7, the Chiefs began celebrating another well-deserved, savory victory.
Pressed to choose which was more satisfying, Clearfield manager Sid Lansberry responded, “I wouldn’t want to pick one over the other. They’re both good teams.
“Yesterday was a pretty big win after what DuBois did to us all summer. And anytime you beat State College is special.
“It feels good coming into this tournament as a third-place team in our league and making some noise. And to beat two of the favored teams, too.”
Just as he did a day earlier, Hoffman homered in the first inning to buoy the Chiefs’ confidence and give them valuable momentum.
Only this one had some controversy. His two-out slicing liner into the right field corner easily scored Jarrett Fulmer and Derek Danver, who were aboard via free passes.
Right fielder Will Sefter raised his hands to signal the ball was out of play, but the umpires did not signal that to be the case, and Hoffman continued his trip around the sacks.
State College manager Terry Godwin came out to question the call, but the umpires ruled Sefter should not have picked up the ball until they could verify it was a book-rule double.
Leading 3-2, Clearfield gave Bookhamer a 6-2 cushion in the fifth when Fulmer singled for the second time, Danver chased him home with a double to deep left center and Redden rocketed a two-out homer to left.
Fulmer was able to elude catcher Steve Mellott’s lunging tag with a great slide on the third base side of home plate, reaching back to get his hand down in time.
“I probably shouldn’t have sent Fulmer on that,” Lansberry second-guessed himself. “You don’t want to get a kid thrown out at home with nobody out.
“He was running on the pitch and he got a good jump. I sent him all the way, and luckily it worked out. Without that good slide and reaching back, he’s out.”
Everything was coming up roses for the Chiefs at that point.
Bookhamer was unfazed by Nicosia’s two-out dinger after Clearfield’s lone misplay as well as Scott Glass’ solo homer, State College’s 13th of the tourney, leading off the sixth inning.
The crafty southpaw kept befuddling State College by changing speeds and locations with all of his pitches before departing after six because of the three-day, 12-inning rule.
Zurat, a righty with more velocity, stepped into the closer’s role for the second time in as many days and was up to the task.
State College got close in the eighth. Nicosia walked, Glass tripled to deep center for an RBI and scored on Austin Mock’s groundout.
Zurat, who hurled a complete game in Clearfield’s tourney opener, put some pressure on himself in the ninth when he gave up a hit to Mellott and, after third baseman Tyler Jacobson charged Matt Fry’s slow roller to get the all-important second out, walked Nick Carothers.
But he refused to buckle, even after going to 3-0 on Nicosia. He reached back to fire three consecutive strikes, freezing the State College center fielder with the last, perfect pitch.
Though not completely shutting down a potent lineup that had averaged 17 hits and 17 wins in three wins, Bookhamer and Zurat certainly contained it.
They teamed up for a seven-hitter and induced the usually line-drive, power-hitting club to pop up or fly out 16 times, with Hoffman roaming right field to haul in half of them.
“That’s a heck of a job by both of those guys,” Lansberry praised his hurlers. “They want to win and they’re both competitors. Plus, they’ve both become leaders on this team.”
For Chiefs who were members of the Clearfield Area High School squad, the win was eerily reminiscent of the Bisons’ 5-4 squeaker over State College on April 1 when Zurat got the decision with 3-2/3 innings of four-hit, one-run relief on a day when the Little Lions slammed three homers out of the Bison Sports Complex.
Each team has seven regulars who started that game, after which the Little Lions reeled off 11 wins in a row.
“I was thinking that we’re finishing up the year the way we started, because we beat DuBois and State in real close games early in the (high school) season,” Lansberry said. “It’s high-level baseball we’ve played the last couple days.
“What makes me proud is that they’re playing good baseball against good teams.
“Yesterday, I said that’s the best game we’ve played or been involved in. Today was just as good.”
With the same, happy ending.
STATE COLLEGE — 5
Nick Carothers 3b 4000, Trey Nicosia cf 4212, Scott Glass ss 4232, Austin Mock lf 4001, Shane Regel dh 4000, Will Sefter rf 3010, Aaron Sallade 1b 4000, Steve Mellott c 4020, Matt Fry 2b 4100, Matt Godwin p 0000. TOTALS: 35 5 7 5.
CLEARFIELD — 6
Jarrett Fulmer 2b 3220, Derek Danver ss 2221, Corey Bookhamer p-1b 2000, Andrew Redden c 3112, Justin Hoffman rf 4113, Kyle Timchak 3000, Chad Zurat 1b-p 4010, Tyler Jacobson 3b 3000, Shane Harper cf 4000. TOTALS: 28 6 7 6.
Score by Innings
State College 002 001 020 – 5 7 1
Clearfield 300 030 00x – 6 7 1
Errors – Godwin; Jacobson. LOB – State College 6; Clearfield 6. 2B – Danver. 3B – Glass. HR – Nicosia, Glass; Redden, Hoffman. Sac – Bookhamer 2.
State College – Godwin 8 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 6 BB, 7 K.
Clearfield – Bookhamer 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K; Zurat 3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K.
W – Bookhamer (7-3). L – Godwin. Save – Zurat (2).
Umpires – Bob Buck (plate), Mike Campbell (first base); Jim DeLarre (third base).