Muncy pitcher strikes out 16, adds home run

MUNCY – He did not plan on allowing a leadoff double, but Muncy pitcher Ken Koch also did not mind the situation which escalated two pitches later when Isaac Beiter moved to third on a passed ball. In fact, he preferred it this way.

Bring on the pressure. And good luck hitting Koch once one puts it on.

Koch retired the next three hitters, the first two via strikeout, putting an exclamation point on a stellar all-around performance as Muncy edged St. John Neumann, 5-4, Wednesday and clinched its 18th consecutive District 4 Class A playoff berth.

Koch threw a complete-game four-hitter, struck out a career-high 16, went 2 for 2 and hit a two-run home run as Muncy (10-4, 9-3 HAC-III) won for the sixth time in seven games.

“Ever since I started pitching I do better under pressure so I wasn’t worried at all,” Koch said. “If I can strike them out I’m better off but I love pressure. It makes me better.”

Koch has been getting better with every start and struck out the most batters by a Muncy pitcher since Nate Messner fanned 18 against Montgomery in 2004. The hard-throwing junior improved to 5-0 and has struck out 27 in his last two starts.

Neumann did score four unearned runs in the fifth and cut a five-run deficit to one. Beiter then led off the seventh with a double and took third on the passed ball. A tie seemed imminent but Koch scrapped the curveball and went pure power. He blew away the next two batters with fastballs before inducing a game-ending groundout to second base.

“The pitch count was rising and he got focused, started hitting his spots and made some big pitches,” Muncy coach Chris Persing said. “That’s what we ask of him in that situation. He loves that role. He’s tough.”

“That’s what we wanted. We wanted to have the opportunity to tie the game but again we didn’t capitalize,” Neumann coach Ed Danneker said. “We let him take control of the game rather than us controlling the game.”

Koch’s control went beyond the mound. Also an outstanding catcher and outfielder, Koch hit an RBI single his first time out and showed he can be as powerful hitting as he is throwing two innings later.

Koch crushed a 2-1 high fastball for a towering two-run home run that put Muncy up 3-0 in the fourth inning and ignited a four-run rally. After T.J. Moyle singled, Anthony Barberio and Andrew Keller followed with RBI singles, Keller’s went off the left-field fence, as Muncy went up 5-0.

Ironically, a left shoulder injury he suffered last week has helped Koch produce his best offense this season. The junior is now hitting .516, has homered in two of his last three games and is 5 for 8 during that span.

“The last few games I’ve been feeling good. The shoulder hurts but now I’m more conservative in my swings,” Koch said. “I’m not trying to pull it as much. When I hit it (the home run) I thought it was a pop fly but it kept going. I’ll take it.”

Koch threw 4 1/3 no-hit innings and that 5-0 lead looked more like 50-0. Neumann, though, countered with a big rally as Noah Beiter’s RBI single and an error pulled it within 5-2. Cody Forsburg then delivered a clutch two-out, two-run single and the Knights (7-7, 4-5) made it a one-run game.

Ryan Reid was outstanding in relief, striking out five in two innings, and the Knights appeared on the verge of completing the comeback. Instead they experienced heartbreak at Muncy again, losing their third straight one-run game there. It also was Neumann’s third one-run loss during the last three weeks.

“It was good they stuck in there and they weren’t intimidated. We put some hits together and got some runs and capitalized on their mistakes,” Danneker said. “We’ve done it before. We get to them, but we just can’t finish it off.”

Muncy took a 1-0 first-inning lead when Dalton Smith reached on an error, moved to second on Levi Myers’ single and scored on Koch’s single. Smith was one of three seniors who played their final home game yesterday. He also is part of a class that will graduate having reached the playoffs every season. That is the norm at Muncy which last missed the postseason in 1996.

Included in that run is a state championship appearance, four district championships and three state Final 4 appearances. The names have changed, but the results have not.

“It’s been fun. When you’re a small school and you get that turnover it’s not always easy,” said Persing, who has won 208 games since 2000. “Sometimes you have depth and sometimes you don’t. These guys believe in the tradition and they want to be the next group to keep it going.”

Neumann000 040 0-4 4 1

Muncy100 400 x-5 7 4

Isaac Beiter, Ryan Reid (5) and Reid, Noah Beiter (5). Ken Koch and T.J. Moyle. W-Koch, (5-0). L-I. Beiter, (2-1).

Top Neumann hitters: I. Beiter 2-4, 2B, R; N. Beiter 1-3, RBI, R; Cody Forsburg 1-4, 2 RBI. Top Muncy hitters: Koch 2-2, HR, 3 RBI, R; Levi Myers 1-2, R; Anthony Barberio 1-3, RBI, R; Andrew Keller 1-2, RBI.

Records: Muncy 10-4, 9-3 HAC-III. Neumann 7-7, 4-5.