CANTON - Canton head coach Bob Rockwell spent the last few days gearing his players up to hit Doug Zehner's curveball. He hadn't been preaching patience because of how deadly the Muncy senior's breaking ball can be when behind in the count.
But it was the patience Canton's hitters showed in a six-run second inning that blew the doors open on a scoreless game. The Warriors exacted a little revenge Thursday afternoon, beating the same team and pitcher which knocked it out of the District 4 playoffs a year ago. Emmett Watson hit a grand slam and Josiah Bardo added a solo homer in the Warriors' 12-4 win over the defending District 4 Class A champions.
Canton touched up Zehner for eight earned runs in just 2 1/3 innings and Canton starter Ben Pepper threw five solid innings for the win.
"Our kids were more patient than I thought they'd be," Rockwell said. "I thought our approach was good and they made (Zehner) come in to the zone."
After an effortless 1-2-3 first innings, Zehner just never seemed to get comfortable on a blustery day where the wind made it feel like a winter afternoon. With a runner on second and one out in the second inning, Zehner walked back-to-back hitters on nine pitches before finally getting the ground ball he needed.
But the slow roller to shortstop was charged by the defender and Chase Pepper beat the throw to second base, loading the bases and allowing Ben Pepper to score. Nine-hole hitter Kyle Landis followed with a fly ball to center field to score Wes Moore.
Had the play been made on the ground ball to shortstop, the fly ball would have gotten Zehner out of the inning allowing just one run. But a five-pitch walk to Derek Wilcox loaded the bases once again and Watson crushed a grand slam to left field two pitches later to give the Warriors a 6-0 lead.
"We make that play nine times out of 10," Muncy coach Chris Persing said. "We didn't get it and they took advantage. At 1-0 or even 2-0, you're in a good position. But we didn't make the play and they took advantage."
"He's a gap hitter and he's got some pop," Rockwell said of Watson. "That was big. I think that was his first home run ever here on this field."
After getting the first out of the third inning, Zehner surrendered four consecutive hits, including an RBI double to Moore and an RBI single to Chase Pepper. Zehner was then lifted for Dawson Fox who got out of the inning without further damage thanks to a tremendous running catch by center fielder Clayton Good.
It was a vastly different outcome from last year's district playoff game when Zehner fired a complete-game five-hitter in an 8-2 win over Canton
"He knows what he's doing out there, he just couldn't get the ball down and they hit it hard," Persing said. "Dougie's ball moves and he hits his spots pretty well. But it goes to show if you live up in the zone - even with these bats - if you get a good swing on it you're still going to hit it pretty good. We just struggled to keep it down in the zone."
Muncy rallied to cut the deficit in half with four runs in the top of the fourth when Fox and Good led off the inning with back-to-back doubles. Zehner later scored from third on a wild pitch and Jeff Scott stole home as part of a double steal effort in which Heath Strickland intentionally got hung up between first and second to allow Scott to score.
But it was as close as Muncy got. Canton starting pitcher Ben Pepper struck out seven over his five innings and didn't walk a batter. Of his 83 pitches, 56 (67 percent) were strikes.
"Ben's a strike-thrower and had good command of his fastball and curveball," Rockwell said. "I thought Ben did a nice job."
"He was hitting his spots well and he had his offspeed stuff working against us," Persing said. "Last year he struggled with it against us, today he didn't. Spotting six runs to a good team like that makes it tough on yourself."
Muncy000 400 0 - 4 5 2
Canton062 022 x - 12 14 2
Doug Zehner, Dawson Fox (3), Skylar Ebner (6) and Kenny Koch. Ben Pepper, Scott Rockwell (6) and Garrett Wesneski.
Top Muncy hitters: Dawson Fox, 1-3, double, run; Clayton Good, 1-4, double, RBI; Kenny Koch, 1-3, run. Top Canton hitters: Emmett Watson, 1-4, grand slam, 4 RBIs, run; Ben Pepper, 2-4, double, run; Ryan Ball, 1-4, 2 runs; Wes Moore, 2-3, double, 2 RBIs, 3 runs; Chase Pepper, 2-3, double, RBI, 2 runs; Garrett Wesneski, 2-3, 2 RBIs, run; Josiah Bardo, 1-1, solo home run, RBI, run.