DUBOIS, Pa. – Heading into Monday’s PIAA Class AAA first-round baseball game with Blackhawk, Punxsutawney hadn’t played a game in 10 days.
Then an inning into Monday’s game, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate bringing a halt to the contest and making the Chucks wait another 20 hours or so to play.
But the wait was well worth it, as Punxsutawney moved into the PIAA quarterfinals with a 3-2 win over WPIAL runner-up Blackhawk at DuBois’ Showers Field.
“We talked about that on the bus yesterday,” Punxsutawney head coach Mike Dickey said. “We said whatever the decision (about the rain) is, we are going to come back and refocus. Whether it’s tonight, meaning (Monday) night or (Tuesday). We were going to refocus, hit the reset button and go back after it. That’s what we did. They are a strong group.”
The contest was really about Chucks ace John Matthews – both the good and the bad.
The bad came early on the second day for Matthews, who threw an inning Monday before the rains came and then came back Tuesday with some command issues.
Matthews hit two batters and walked a batter in the second inning while giving up two runs and then walked two more in the third helping Blackhawk load the bases with one out.
But each time, the senior collected himself and found a way to pitch out of trouble.
In the second, after the two runs had scored, the Cougars still had the bases loaded with one out when Matthews got Tyler Robinson to hit into a 1-2-3 double play.
Then in the second, he struck out Rob Swinderman looking, one of eight strikeouts – seven looking – on the day for the righty before getting Hunter Hagy to ground out to second to end the threat.
“He battled through some adversity today for sure,” Dickey said. “But that’s the kind of player he is. He’s got that bulldog mentality. You want the ball in his hands.”
Dickey was so unconcerned about his star pitcher, who is headed to Kent State, that he didn’t even go out to talk to him when he was struggling.
“He’s been there, he’s done it,” Dickey said. “He’s done it in state playoff games. He’s beaten WPIAL champs before. He’s a guy who’s alway in control. He was totally in control of his emotions in the face of adversity today. That’s why I let him go.”
Dickey’s faith in Matthews turned out to be spot on, as Matthews looked liked a completely different pitcher after the Chucks took the lead with a three-run third inning six base runners – two on intentional walks – in his final four innings of work.
Matthews talked about his ability to keep the game close.
Punxsutawney got the lead by playing some small ball in the third.
It started with No. 8 hitter Lucas Ambler singling to center leading off, and No. 9 hitter Brandon Matthews followed with a single to left. Braxton Giavedoni then hit a grounder that shortstop Michael Turconi had some hesitation on where to throw the ball, and when he finally made up his mind he didn’t have a play and Punxsutawney had the bases loaded.
Lucas Burkett then drew a run-producing walk off Blackhawk’s Mark Engel, who also had pitched a scoreless inning Monday, before John Matthews tied the game with a sacrifice fly to center.
After Lance Pennington walked to reload the bases, Engel’s day on the hill was over, as he was replaced by Andy McClymonds, who sported a 0.51 ERA heading into postseason play.
Joey DiPietro greeted McClymonds with another sacrifice fly, this one to left field, scoring Giavedoni giving Punxsutawney the 3-2 lead.
“We have a big lead-off hit from our eight guy followed up with our nine guy getting a hit, which set the table for us,” Dickey said. “We then had some good situational hitting, driving the balls to the outfield for sacrifice flies. That was huge. Anytime you can answer, you have to answer fairly quickly. That was big.”
After the third the game became a pitcher’s duel between John Matthews and McClymonds with McClymonds only just two baserunners, one on an infield single, the rest of the way and Matthews matching him nearly pitch-for-pitch.
Punxsutawney now plays District 3 champion Hamburg in the quarterfinals at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Greene Township Field in Scotland, Pa.
“It always feels good,” Dickey said about getting a PIAA win. “The first one if often times the hardest to get. We’ve gotten through it quite a few times. The second one has been a burden for us the last few years. We’re all focused on the next one now. This one is sweet. We’re going to enjoy it tonight and get back to work tomorrow.”
PUNXSUTAWNEY 3, BLACKHAWK 2
Score by inning
Blackhawk 020 000 0 – 2
Punxsutawney 003 000 x – 3
Player, Pos, AB,R,H,RBI
Adam Robinson 3b 2021, Tyler Robinson 2b 2000, Andy McClymonds p 1000, Michael Turconi ss/2b 2020, Jimmy Nixon cf 4000, Mark Engel ss/p 3000, Dalton Smith cr/pr 0100, Nick Cerani lf 2120, Anthony Sebastian lf 0000, Rob Swinderman rf 3000, Hunter Hagy dh 2000, Chris Piccione c 0000, Nick Zuchelli 1b 2011. Totals 23-2-7-2.
Player, Pos, AB,R,H,RBI
Braxton Giavedoni cf 3100, Lucas Burkett 2b 1001, John Matthews p 2011, Lance Pennington rf 2000, Joey DiPietro c 2011, Caleb Smith cr 0000, Dylan Huey 3b 2000, Peyton Graham 1b 3000, Lucas Ambler dh 2110, Jacob Weaver lf 0000, Brandon Matthews ss 2110. Totals 19-3-4-3.
Errors – Blackhawk 1, Punxsutawney 1. LOB – Blackhawk 12. Punxsutawney 4. DP – Blackhawk 1. Punxsutawney 2. 2B – Blackhawk: Turconi. SAC – Blackhawk: A. Robinson, McClymonds, Swinderman. SF – J. Matthews, DiPietro. SB – Punxsutawney: Huey. CS – Punxsutawney: J. Matthews.
Mark Engel – 2.1 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 1 K
Andy McClymonds – 3.2 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 0 W, 1 K
John Matthews – 7 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 7 H, 6 W (2 intentional), 8 K, 2 HB
Winning pitcher – John Matthews
Losing pitcher – Mark Engel