S.W. Jack stays in contention with Game 2 victory
BLAIRSVILLE — It took four tries, but S.W. Jack finally found a way to beat Kovacik Insurance.
It just took some clutch two-out hitting, a masterful pitching performance and a fortunate bounce at the end — all in a must-win game.
Facing elimination in Game 2 of the best-of-3 Indiana County Junior Legion championship series, the Drillers beat Kovacik for the first time this season, forcing a decisive Game 3 with a 6-5 eight-inning victory July 14 at WyoTech Park in Blairsville.
The Indiana squad was facing elimination after Kovacik breezed through the series opener, 12-4, the previous day. Then, for much of Game 2, Kovacik looked to be on its way to becoming the first Blairsville franchise to earn a county title since 1994.
Kovacik took a 5-3 lead in the third inning and held onto that advantage until there were two outs in the top of the sixth, when Jordan Hudzicki tied the game with a two-run single. The second runner, Trent Ream, scored despite a strong throw from third baseman Cameron Livingston that nearly got Ream out at the plate.
Two innings later, the Drillers got another crucial two-out hit from Dante Lombardi that scored the go-ahead run.
While the offense did its part, Sean Thompson kept the Drillers alive with his performance on the mound as he entered in the fourth and held Kovacik scoreless the rest of the way.
With all that, the top-seeded Drillers finally solved Kovacik after losing to the Blairsville team twice in the regular season and then again in Game 1.
“They’re a good team. They hit the ball well, they’re aggressive at the plate, but it was a good feeling to beat them,” Thompson said. “We came together more as a team today. No individual stuff, but it felt good. Our defense played big –that helped out a lot.
In Game 2, the Drillers committed just one error that didn’t lead to any runs. That was a big change from the teams’ previous meetings.
“Every game we played them, we must’ve had at least 10 walks or more and five, six errors or more every game, and you’re not going to beat anybody with that,” said S.W. Jack manager Mitch Pacconi. “That’s not to take anything away from them. They’re tough. … Their first four or five guys can really hit the ball good, and they have a good defense. Their infield’s tough, they don’t make too many errors.”
Based on the strange play that ended the game, the Drillers seemed to have luck on their side this time as well.
With Kovacik runners on first and second with two outs, Sean Thompson faced his cousin Scott Thompson, who had two runs batted in already in the game.
It looked like Kovacik’s Thompson would extend the game when his ground ball went off shortstop Ream, but the ball rolled right to Lombardi, who was standing on second base to force out Lucas Palmer for the final out.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way at times today — that’s baseball,” said Kovacik Insurance manager Mark Palmer. “That play there (to end the game), what are the odds of him kicking it to the second basemanâ¢ He could’ve kicked it any other way.”
While acknowledging the good fortune, Pacconi also lauded his second baseman Lombardi for being in the right spot.
“He went to the bag where he’s supposed to be,” Pacconi said. “You’ve got to be lucky, too. No doubt about that.”
Sean Thompson didn’t need too much luck after he took over for an ailing Dan Clark to start the bottom of the fourth. Thompson surrendered five hits and two walks while striking our four in his five innings of work.
Thompson started off shaky with Kovacik loading the bases in the fourth, but he got out of that jam unscathed and then cruised in the next two innings.
In the fifth inning, Thompson struck out three batters after the leadoff batter reached base on an error. In the sixth inning, Thompson then induced three straight ground-ball outs to third baseman Jonah Schall.
In the seventh and eighth, Thompson ran into a little bit of trouble — allowing two runners to reach base each time — but he got out of it with a double play in the seventh and the groundout from his cousin in the eighth.
“I try to thrive in pressure situations, that’s what all the pros say,” Thompson said. “That’s what I always think of so I thought no one better to face than my cousin because he’s one of the best players on the team.”
Scott Thompson took the loss on the mound for Kovacik, despite pitching eight solid innings. He gave up a lot of hits — 17 total — but he got out of several jams early, including the first inning when S.W. Jack had the bases loaded with no outs but didn’t score a run.
The Drillers stranded two more in the second before finally getting on the board with three runs in the third to take a 3-1 lead. Still, it felt like the Drillers should have had a bigger lead because they already had 10 hits.
“When we had 10 hits, I said, ‘I can’t believe this: 10 hits, three runs,'” Pacconi said. “We had a lot of chances to break it open early, but they’re tough. They made a lot of plays, too.”
Kovacik broke through in the third inning with four runs and three hits off the lefty Clark, who was replaced in the fourth because of arm soreness.
Kovacik took a 4-3 lead in the third on an RBI single by John Distefano, who went 2-for-4. Kovacik also scored runs that inning on a wild pitch, passed ball and a sacrifice fly by Scott Thompson that plated Anthony Faulk, who went 2-for-5.
Thompson put Kovacik on the scoreboard in the first when his single drove in Palmer, who had blasted a triple to the deepest part of the ballpark in centerfield. Palmer went 3-for-5 with two runs.
Eight out of nine S.W. Jack batters had at least two hits while No. 9 batter Ty Brocious had three.
Lombardi drove in three runs, including a two-run single that put S.W. Jack ahead 3-1 in the third. Clark drove in the Drillers’ first run with a double.
“They’re a good team, that’s why they finished first,” Palmer said of the Drillers. “I knew they weren’t going to die, I knew they weren’t going to go away. I told the kids earlier that they’re going to be out fighting even harder (in Game 2), but that’s baseball. We’ve been on a huge winning streak, but I told the kids maybe the loss here will actually do us good. … Maybe we can start another winning streak.”