Baseball Suffers Tough Loss In Conference Championship
(Posted May 6, 2006)
WEST LAWN, Pa. - The Juniata College baseball team's record-breaking season came to an abrupt and sudden end on Saturday as Elizabethtown College earned two victories over Juniata to earn the Commonwealth Conference Championship. Juniata entered the day needing one win to earn the Commonwealth title, but dropped game one by a 4-2 score and then suffered a 9-5 set-back in game two. Elizabethtown earns its first conference championship and its first automatic berth in the NCAA Championship since 2001. Juniata closes its season with a program-record 30 victories as it ends the year with a mark of 30-12-1, while Elizabethtown was 25-14-1 after the victories.
After nearly pulling out a comeback win in game one, Juniata fell victim to a seven-run inning from Elizabethtown in game two. Juniata's offense, which has averaged more than seven runs per game over the course of the year, was held to seven runs combined in the two games.
"Things didn't go the way we hoped today, but I could not be more proud of this team," Juniata Head Coach George Zanic. "I've got an incredible amount of good feeling for all the guys on our team but especially our 10 seniors who have given everything they have to this program. There's no way that two losses are going to change the way I feel about this team and everything they've accomplished."
After dropping the tight game one, Juniata broke through first in game two. Darren Hake (Red Lion/Red Lion) brought in the first run of the game as he grounded into a double-play in the top of the second. The Eagles added another in the top of the third when Will Russell (Tyrone/Tyrone) drove a sacrifice fly to center that brought home Juniata's second run.
The Blue Jays got one run back in the bottom of the fourth. Dean Whetham delivered an RBI single to center, making the score 2-1 in favor of Juniata. Brandon Watson followed with a ground-rule double that put runners on second and third with one out. But Juniata hurler Paul Dunklebarger (State College/State College) got a strikeout for the second out and Steven Wilk (Blairsville/Hollidaysburg) made a diving stop at third to get the third out and save a run.
Elizabethtown came back and tied the game up in the bottom of the fifth. After two walks and a wild pitch Ryan White brought home the tying run with a groundball to short.
The Blue Jays then took command as they scored seven runs on seven hits in the bottom of the sixth. With Jason Enoch (Hempfield/Landisville) on in relief Jared Auman started the scoring with an RBI single. Adam Sheibley then provided the big blow as he drove a grand slam homer to right, giving Elizabethtown a 7-2 lead. Watson capped the scoring with a bases-loaded single later in the frame that put the Blue Jays on top 9-2.
"Elizabethtown did a great job of getting big hits all day, and their pitcher's really fought hard and kept us off balance," Zanic said. "I still thought we would be able to make a run at them, but we just couldn't string the hits together today like we've done all year. But you have to give them a lot of credit, they played two very good games."
Juniata got one run back in the top of the seventh on a bases-loaded fielder's choice from Walt Goedkoop (Manheim Township/Lancaster). The Eagles continued to threaten but the Blue Jays got another double-play to end the inning without further damage. Juniata continued to chip away with a pair of runs in the top of the eighth. Wilk delivered a sacrifice fly to center and Troy Beaver (Bellwood-Antis/Bellwood) singled in a run to cut the lead to 9-5. But that was as close as Juniata would get. Jesse Leonard (Shade/Johnstown) produced a two-out single in the ninth to extend the game, but the Eagles would draw no closer.
Sam Heaps earned the victory in relief for Elizabethtown as he went four innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on four hits. Dunklebarger pitched five solid innings for Juniata as he went five innings allowing two runs on four hits while striking out four. Enoch was tagged with the loss.
Leonard and fellow senior Beaver both led Juniata with a pair of hits. Leonard scored two runs on the game while Beaver drove in a run and scored once. Watson led all players with three hits while also driving in two runs. White added a pair of hits.
In game one, Elizabethtown hurler Tyler Hoffman out-dueled Juniata starter Andrew Snyder (Punxsutawney/Punxsutawney to earn the victory for the Blue Jays. Snyder was strong for the Eagles as he went 8 1-3 innings, allowing four runs on nine hits. But Hoffman kept Juniata at-bay throughout the game and then got a big assist from the Blue Jays bullpen as he went 7 1-3 innings, allowing two runs on nine hits.
Elizabethtown became the third opponent in as many days to put Juniata in an early hole. Watson delivered a bases-loaded single to right to bring in the first two runs of the contest, and Jared Auman followed with a run-scoring single to center that gave the Blue Jays an early 3-0 advantage.
After four scoreless innings, Juniata finally broke through with a run in the bottom of the fifth. With Leonard running from first, Zach Sternberg (McCaskey/Lancaster) singled to right and Leonard came all the way around to score the Eagles' first run of the contest. The Blue and Gold got another run back in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, Will Russell (Tyrone/Tyrone) delivered an RBI single to left that cut the Widener lead to 3-2.
Juniata threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth. A single and a pair of walks loaded the bases with one out. Scott Woehnker came on in relief of Hoffman and induced a double-play grounder to get out of the inning with no damage done.
Elizabethtown carried that momentum into the top of the ninth as an RBI single from Dean Whetham pushed across another run to give the Blue Jays a 4-2 lead.
Juniata brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth, but could not break through as Woehnker closed the door to earn his third save of the season.
Russell had a pair of hits and an RBI for the Eagles in the game, while Sternberg also had two hits and a run driven in.
Mike Donahue, Auman and Morris all had two hits for Elizabethtown in the game.
Juniata's 10 seniors have helped the team win exactly 100 games over the past four seasons, and reached the conference postseason each of the past three years. Several of the seniors have established career or single-season records over the past four years and the team has established new program-records for wins each of the past three seasons.
"This group of players, and this team has brought the Juniata program to levels it has never reached before," Zanic said. "They've been great representatives of Juniata and I'll always have great memories of this team."
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