Loyalsock forces rematch today for District 12 Junior Baseball championship

Loyalsock’s Eli Gair watches as his teammate scores against Keystone at Montoursville in the District 12 Junior Baseball championship game. (IOANNIS PASHAKIS/ Sun-Gazette)

If Joeb Schurer ever felt any pressure he certainly did not show it.

As Keystone moved closer to pulling off an improbable comeback in Wednesday’s District 12 Junior Baseball championship at Kiwanis Park, Loyalsock looked toward its leader. Schurer started the game before being lifted in an effort to keep him eligible for today’s “if” game. When he re-entered Keystone had cut a 10-run deficit to two in the fifth inning and had two runners on with no outs and the top of the order coming up.

No problem.

Schurer induced consecutive pop-outs, including a double play, then retired all eight batters he faced in relief as Loyalsock won a thriller, 11-9, and forced that winner take all game back at Kiwanis Park tonight.

“Joeb is a gamer and he’s a leader and he gutted it out,” Loyalsock manager Joe Worth said. “We tried to milk it out a little and if we needed to get back to him we would. We needed to and he came through. He has a lot of heart and he has a lot of passion.”

It showed in the biggest moments last night. Loyalsock stormed out, scoring 10 runs in the top of the first inning. Before Keystone batted it seemed the game might already be over. Keystone thought otherwise and scored four runs in both the second and fourth innings while pulling within 11-9.

And when Greg Wolizer and Brodie Miller drew leadoff walks in the fifth inning, Keystone appeared ready to write quite a comeback story. Instead, Schurer flipped the script.

Schurer was pulled with two outs in the second inning of a game Loyalsock led 10-1. He looked stronger when he retook the mound, threw two quick strikes and induced a pop-out. He worked an 0-1 count a batter later before catcher Dayvon Thompson caught a popped up bunt and threw to second for an inning-ending double play. Schurer dominated from there, retiring Keystone in order in both the sixth and seventh innings while striking out two of the last three batters he faced against a team that scored 45 runs in its three previous wins.

“He is a gamer. He is the clear leader of this team and a lot of guys on the team look up to him. They follow his lead,” Worth said. “When he’s on the mound, guys play different on defense. They just know that he’s going to be around the plate and there’s a lot of confidence when he’s on the mound.”

Despite facing that immediate 10-run deficit, Keystone showed plenty of confidence, too. Keystone delivered six hits in the first four innings and never flinched after being put against the ropes so soon. Miller was spectacular in relief, throwing 6 1/3 innings of five-hit baseball. Miller tamed an offense that not only built a 10-0 first-inning lead but that also has scored 49 runs in four straight wins. Just as important, he kept Keystone from having to burn more pitchers and put itself in a positive situation entering the final.

It was not the result Keystone wanted, but the team showed it is as resilient as it is talented.

“That’s the way they’ve been all season. They could have come in and hung their heads being down 10-0, but they are kids who just battle,” Keystone manager Shawn Carson said. “They don’t worry about it. Nobody puts their heads down and they just keep pounding away. They battled back and that is a plus.”

Payton Johnson ignited the comeback and put together a dominant offensive performance. The sweet-swinging shortstop went 3 for 4 with two triples, five RBIs, two runs and a stolen base. Johnson’s three-run triple made it 10-4 in the second inning and he made it a two-run game when he drilled a two-run, fourth-inning triple 345 feet to deep center field.

“He’s a great kid. Even though he had a bad inning (pitching in the first) he went out and played his heart out and hit the ball,” Carson said. “That’s just the way he is. It’s great having him on our team. He’s an outstanding athlete.”

Johnson scored on his second triple when the throw to third rolled out of play. Keystone had the momentum, but Loyalsock had Schurer and continued its impressive run through the loser’s bracket. Since dropping its opener 13-2 at East Lycoming, Loyalsock has won four straight games and outscored its opponents, 49-12. Entering last night, Loyalsock pitchers surrendered just three runs and five hits in its previous three wins.

“That first game we got stifled and ever since then it’s been a 360. The attitude and focus has changed,” Worth said. “The kids realized that you have to go out and take it from someone as opposed to having it given to you. It’s been a good ride through the losers’ bracket. We got to play a lot more baseball than a lot of teams would so that’s a bonus too.”

Loyalsock wasted no time showing it wanted to keep playing baseball in that first inning when it scored 10 runs and sent 14 batters to the plate. Loyalsock scored seven two-out runs, delivered four hits and showed good patience, drawing four walks.

Chase Cavanaugh helped ignite the big rally, hitting a two-run single that produced the game’s first runs. Gage Moon (2 for 3) drove in another run when he was hit by a pitch and Eli Gair (2 for 4) kept the rally going, hitting a two-out RBI single. Schurer made it 9-0, hitting a two-run double and scored the 10th run a batter later on an error.

It has been a long road back since that first game, but that first inning helped pave the way. Now, Loyalsock is right where it wants to be.

“We came and won the first one and now the pressure kind of changes. We get momentum and the pressure is on them as much as on us,” Worth said. “We’re not just happy to be here, though. We want to win the whole thing.”

Loyalsock (10)00 100 0–11 9 3

Keystone 140 400 0–9 6 3

Joeb Schurer, Deshon Robinson (2), Eli Gair (4), Schurer (5) and Dayvon Thompson. Payton Johnson, Brodie Miller (2) and Greg Wolizer. W: Schurer. L: Johnson.

Top Loyalsock hitters: Eli Gair 2-4, BB, RBI, 2 runs, SB; Matt Worth 1-3, BB, 2 runs; Schurer 1-4, 2B, 2 RBIs, run; Thompson 1-3, BB, run; Chase Cavanaugh 1-4, 2 RBIs, run; Gage Moon 2-3, RBI, 2 run, 2 SB; Corbin Scaife 1-1, RBI. Top Keystone hitters: Johnson 3-4, 2 3B, 5 RBIs, 2 runs, SB; Eric Hoy 1-4, RBI, run; Brady Williams 2 BB, 2 runs; Miller 1-1, BB, 2 runs.