Highlands shuts out Apollo for senior title
LOYALHANNA TOWNSHIP — Danny Jackson wanted to make certain Highlands Little League would win its third consecutive District 26 Little League senior division all-star championship. And he did.
The 16-year-old right-hander pitched a one-hitter and struck out 11 as Highlands outdistanced Apollo, 14-0, on Tuesday night in the district title game at John A. Andreini Field on the campus of The Kiski School.
Highlands will now play host to the Pennsylvania Section II tournament in hopes of getting another berth in the state finals in Emporium. Jackson is accustomed to performing on the big stage, taking part in a combined no-hitter last year in the opening round of the state tournament.
The only Apollo hit barely traveled 20 feet. Chris Burns led off the second with a little tapper that initially went foul along the third base line, then curled into fair territory.
“We have, probably, five pitchers that we could have started,” said Highlands manager Mark Fleck. “But you can’t ask for anything better than that. Danny Jackson’s a great pitcher.”
The game was terminated after five innings due to the 10-run rule.
“Everything was working, ” Jackson said. “I had a curve and was changing speeds. I faced them a couple of weeks ago and I knew they were a great hitting team.”
Highlands resorted to small ball to ignite its first scoring outburst in the top of the second inning. Andy Mazur led off with a single and took second on Tim Sturdenvant’s bunt single along the third-base line. Tyler Saracco then bunted both runners up and R.C. Betts drove in his two teammates with a single. Ryan Clark then circled the bases on a hard-hit ball to left field to put Highlands in front, 4-0.
“The bunts got our team kick-started and making them make the plays, I think that’s a big part of it,” Fleck said.
Highlands then batted around in the third, scoring five runs on five hits. A double to Saracco and a triple by Betts propelled the rally, chasing starter and losing pitcher Cory Reilly. Jackson helped himself with a sacrifice fly to drive in Betts.
Even substitutes got in on the act as Ryan Luzik homered, Troy Nemeth singled and scored and Ben Hetrick was hit by a pitch and came around to score. Fleck was particularly pleased with the bottom part of the batting order.
“Our six, seven, eight and nine hitters accounted for 11 of our 14 runs,” Fleck said. “Our second-stringers got some good playing time and some good experience.”
Justin Reddy was the only Apollo base runner to reach third after walking in the bottom of the first.
The game was delayed some 42 minutes in the bottom of the first due to a combination of rain and lightning.