BUTLER, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Twice, the Clarion Area High School baseball team fell behind.
Twice, the Bobcats came back.
(Above, Clarion catcher Cameron Lapinto had a key hit and run in the seventh inning and also had a good game behind the plate for the Bobcats)
That certainly bodes well for a team with some big aspirations this season.
Clarion rallied from a two-run deficit after a shaky first inning and a one-run deficit in the top of the sixth after Karns City had charged ahead to win its season-opener over the Gremlins, 6-4, on a windy Thursday evening at Michelle Krill Field at Historic Pullman Park.
“It was just a great team effort,” said Clarion senior catcher Cameron Lapinto. “We had a bad start at first, and then we rallied together as a team. It’s all about teamwork to get this game down here.
“It’s a huge confidence booster for us,” he added. “To be able to rally twice as a team against a good team down here, that’s just incredible.”
Karns City got to Clarion starter Ryan Alston with two runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Braden Grossman doubled and scored on single by Mallick Metcalfe, who then came around to score thanks to a wild pitch and an error.
Clarion, though, regrouped and put up three runs in the top of the third against Metcalfe.
No. 9 hitter Gary Matus led off with a single. Dawson Smail followed with a double and Devon Lauer drove home Matus with a fielder’s choice groundout. The throw was wild and allowed Smail to score as well.
Lauer later came home on a RBI single by Chase Kriebel for a 3-2 Clarion lead.
It took awhile for the Bobcats’ solid lineup to start bunching hits together.
“We had two scrimmages and we were just missing the ball here and there,” said Clarion coach Rob Jewett. “I think we’re starting to see the pitches a little bit better.”
That was a tall order against Metcalfe, Karns City’s ace.
The junior right-hander pitched well, but struggled at times with consistency.
Lapinto drew two walks against Metcalfe, who only gave out seven free bases all of last season.
Still, Metcalfe went five innings, giving up three runs — two earned — and striking out only one. He left in line for the win, but ended up with a no-decision.
“He was a little gassed,” said Karns City coach Josh “Sluggo” Smith of Metcalfe. “That’s what’s tough (early in the season). You can throw as much live simulation in gyms and stuff as you can, but until you get live and feel your body working hard, that’s when you know. We weren’t going to push him.”
Metcalfe left with a 4-3 lead thanks to another two-spot for the Gremlins in the bottom of the third. Grossman doubled again and Metcalfe followed with a double of his own to tie the game at 3-3. Metcalfe later scored on a sac-fly by Braeden Rodgers.
That lead stood until the top of the sixth.
Mike Neff relieved Metcalfe and struggled early in his outing, walking the first two batters he faced, Noah Harrison and Tanner Miller.
Harrison and Miller came around to score on a RBI single by Matus and sacrifice fly by Smail.
Clarion added an insurance run in the seventh on a RBI single by Bryce Brinkley that scored Lapinto. Brinkley had a pair of singles in the game.
The rest was up to Miller on the mound.
The left-hander gave Karns City a steady diet of off-speed stuff and threw 3 1/3 hitless, scoreless innings to get the win.
“Our formula is throw strikes and trust your defense and he did a great job mixing up all three of his pitches and working both sides of the plate,” Jewett said. “It was nice to see him take charge and limit the walks.”
Karns City loves to pound fastballs and Miller threw very few of them over the plate.
It’s something the Gremlins are going to have to adjust to this season.
“That’s our philosophy and it’s not a secret; I don’t need to hide it — we hunt fastballs and we swing at breaking balls when we have to,” Smith said. “We have four or five coaches who throw live every practice. We don’t have a machine, so we hit and hit and hit and it’s gonna show up once we get our feet wet.”
Freshman Jacob Jones also tripled for Karns City.
Lapinto had a good debut as well, more so behind the plate.
He threw out a runner drifting a little too far away from the third-base bag to help quash a Karns City rally and handled Alston and Miller well.
“He does a really good job behind the plate,” Jewett said. “He’s one of our captain. That’s what a leader does.”