HYDE — The Clearfield Area High School baseball team, which holds the No. 2 seed for the District 9 Class AAAA Playoffs, faces a major hurdle Wednesday in its bid to return to the title game for the second year in a row.
Across the Bison Sports Complex diamond will be a familiar foe, and district playoff nemesis, in the Punxsutawney Chucks, riding into the 4:30 p.m. semifinal on a four-game winning streak.
“They’ve been top dogs in the district a long time,” Bison coach Sid Lansberry said.
Thirteen consecutive years, to be exact.
The streak began right after the 2003 Bison claimed the District 9 Class AAA championship hardware.
Since then, the rivals have met five times in the playoffs, including 2006, 2007, 2009 and last year in the finals.
Based on records and a 3-2 win over the Chucks (8-10) at the BSC on April 20, the Bison (13-7) go in as favorites to reverse their fortunes in the one-sided series, but Lansberry was quick to say he knows that won’t be easy.
“Starting out the year, it did look like they were weaker than they have been, but I’ve been following them, and they’ve definitely gotten better,” he said. “They’re right there, and they’re a formidable opponent, for sure.”
He’s expects Punxsy’s top two pitchers, juniors Brandon Matthews and Logan Johnston, to make it a tough postseason opener for the Bison.
Matthews worked six innings in the earlier meeting, allowing five hits and two runs, one earned, while striking out seven and walking one. He wound up with no decision as the Bison won it in walk-off fashion with a run off reliever Joey Dipietro in the seventh inning.
“We know they have Matthews, but I see that Johnston has more innings, and both have earned run averages under three,” he said. “Either way, we’re going to face a good pitcher.
“It’s gonna be a tight ball game.”
Against four common opponents, the Bison are 4-1 and the Chucks are 4-2.
Clearfield defeated DuBois 8-0, Brookville 12-2 and Curwensville 10-2 and 13-0 and lost to Altoona 5-4.
Punxsy beat DuBois twice by identical 3-2 scores, Brookville 8-3 and Curwensville 10-0 and 7-3 in a doubleheader last week. The losses were 3-2 to Brookville and 7-5 to Altoona.
The Bison have been on a roll since starting 1-3 in Lansberry’s 46th season at the helm, especially down the stretch with the squeaker at Altoona their lone loss in the last eight games.
“The second half of the season, I think we’ve improved in all phases of the game,” Lansberry said.
The statistics bear that out as the Bison raised their batting average from .219 at the halfway mark to .299 with six double-digit outputs in their last 10 games, lowered their ERA from 3.83 to 2.91 with four games of no earned runs and three with one or two, and had no games with more than two errors.
In their last four games, the Bison piled up 52 hits.
“We’re seeing the ball better and making better contact as a team,” Lansberry noted.
Six Bison are hitting .300 or higher.
Senior catcher Zane Morgan owns an eight-game hitting streak, with six hits in the last three games soaring his batting average to a team-high .391. He drove in 10 runs over that stretch, upping that total to 15.
Sophomore right fielder Ty Bender has come alive after struggling earlier at the plate, contributing nine hits and nine RBIs during a six-game hitting streak that lifted him to the .300 level.
A dozen hits in nine games have boosted senior left fielder/pitcher Tommy Hazel’s average to .362, and he drove home two or more teammates in six of them to take over the RBI lead with 19.
Sophomore Eli Glass, who has starts at third base and shortstop as well as on the mound, jumped his average to .314 and is dueling Hazel for RBI honors with 18.
Senior second baseman Thayne Morgan and junior center fielder Reese Wilson check in at .313 and .309 at the top of the order and have scored 19 and 17 runs, respectively. Wilson also has 11 RBIs.
Zane Morgan, the No. 3 batter, also has touched home plate 19 times.
That trio have a combined 33 stolen bases in 35 attempts, too.
Junior Seth Bumbarger (.250) will be at first base, the left side of the infield will depend on the coaching staff’s decision on who will go to the mound, freshman Harrison Peacock at third if Myers or Glass get the nod.
Glass (3-2, 4.90 ERA) four-hit Punxsy in just his second varsity start, Myers (5-2) has won his last three decisions and dropped his ERA to .281, junior Jake Sorbera (3-2, 3.40 ERA) has matched Myers in starts with seven and shutouts in his last two, and Hazel (2-1, 1.70) has evolved into a very reliable relief pitcher with two of the team’s three saves.
“Tommy does a good job coming out of left field on short notice,” Lansberry said. “Many times, we’ve not been able to warm him up. You have eight pitches, and a lot of kids can’t get ready.
“Everybody has pitched well down the stretch,” Lansberry said. “We’re comfortable starting any of the four, but we really haven’t decided yet.”
If Hazel is the choice, Sorbera would be patrolling left field.
Having Zane Morgan behind the plate is a confidence-builder for the mound staff.
Almost unbelievably, the Bison hurlers have been charged with only five wild pitches in 132-1/3 innings.
“Zane’s an outstanding defensive catcher,” Lansberry said. “He’s textbook the way he blocks the ball. And he’s thrown out a lot of runners trying to steal. Teams don’t run on him a lot any more.”
The number four seed Bradford Owls defeated the number one seed St. Marys 3-2 in Tuesday’s other AAAA semifinal.
The winner of the Clearfield-Punxsutawney match up will now face Bradford in the championship game, which will be played next week with the date, site and time to be announced.
|3/27||CENTRAL||ppd.||0 – 0|
|3/28||@ Central||ppd.||0 – 0|
|3/29||CENTRAL||ppd.||0 – 0|
|3/30||@ Huntingdon||7 – 5||1 – 0|
|4/01||@ Central||ppd.||1 – 0|
|4/04||@ Bellefonte||ppd.||1 – 0|
|4/05||@ Bellefonte||0 – 10||1 – 1|
|4/06||PUNXSUTAWNEY||ppd.||1 – 1|
|4/07||TYRONE||ppd.||1 – 1|
|4/08||@ Central||2 – 8||1 – 2|
|4/10||BALD EAGLE AREA||1 – 2||1 – 3|
|4/11||CURWENSVILLE||10 – 2||2 – 3|
|4/13||PENNS VALLEY||6 – 3||3 – 3|
|4/17||CENTRAL||3 – 2, 8 inn.||4 – 3|
|4/18||@ Philipsburg-Osceola||6 – 9||4 – 4|
|4/20||PUNXSUTAWNEY||3 – 2||5 – 4|
|4/24||HUNTINGDON||2 – 5||5 – 5|
|4/25||TYRONE||7 – 5||6 – 5|
|4/27||BELLEFONTE||3 – 7||6 – 6|
|4/28||BROOKVILLE||12 – 2||7 – 6|
|5/01||@ Bradford||ppd.||7 – 6|
|5/02||@ Tyrone||3 – 1||8 – 6|
|5/03||@ Bradford||cancelled||8 – 6|
|5/05||@ Bald Eagle Area||ppd.||8 – 6|
|5/08||@ Penns Valley||6 – 2||9 – 6|
|5/09||@ Curwensville||13 – 0||10 – 6|
|5/11||PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA||10 – 3||11 – 6|
|5/15||@ DuBois||8 – 0||12 – 6|
|5/16||@ Altoona||4 – 5||12 – 7|
|5/17||@ Bald Eagle Area||14 – 3||13 – 7|
|5/24||District 9 AAAA Semifinals|