SOMERSET - The Somerset Post 181 American Legion baseball team punched its ticket to the Pennsylvania Region 7 Tournament with an 11-1 victory over three-time defending champion Claysburg in the Cambria County League playoffs on Friday night.
Somerset is the only unbeaten team left in the double-elimination CCAL playoffs.
The Businessmen secured their trip to Latrobe for the regional tournament by guaranteeing themselves a top-two finish in the playoffs.
Somerset remained unbeaten in league play this season, running its winning streak to 24 straight games.
"We had such a good season. When you win all those games, the pressure keeps building and building," Somerset manager Bob Hay said. "I think we played tight the first two games [in the playoffs]. We were just kind of able to bust out and relax a little bit tonight."
Advancing to regionals is something that the Somerset Baseball Club takes great pride in. It was Claysburg last season which beat the Businessmen in the CCAL championship series and denied them a spot in the regional tournament at Bedford.
"We never took it for granted, but we realized how much we missed it when we didn't make it last year," said Hay, who has now guided Somerset to regionals in 10 of his 12 years as the team's manager. "To be so close and not make it last year really stung. I know it sat with me for about 360-some days. It's a big burden off our chest. We're going to get refocused [today]. Our goal is to win this league and be the No. 1."
After struggling offensively in its two previous playoffs games this week, Somerset pounded out 13 hits and scored 11 runs, including five in the bottom of the second. The game was called after the sixth inning because of the 10-run mercy rule.
Austin Sleek turned in a solid performance on the mound. He gave up three hits, walked one and struck out nine.
"I wasn't sure if we were just not going to hit for the rest of the year or bust out," Hay said. "We certainly busted out. In that big inning there in the second, we had a bunch of two-strike hits.
"That really got us going and Sleek was on tonight. He was focused and he knew, with the win, what was at stake. It's his 18-year-old year, his last start here at home. He ended it on a good one."
Meanwhile, Claysburg starter Joe Glass was pulled after the fourth inning. He yielded 10 hits, walked three and struck out three. Glass was charged with all five runs in the second.
"I thought early on, Joey's pitches were a up a little bit," Claysburg manager Dave Aungst said. "Somerset is not a team you can afford to do that to. They've got a lot of talent and are well coached. They take advantage of your mistakes. Tonight, they were on the ball. Their pitcher [Sleek] kept us at bay. I thought his location was excellent.
"We have to put this one behind us and come ready to battle again [today]. These guys are gamers and they're going to leave everything out there [today]. I'd expect nothing less."
Somerset had six hits in the bottom of the second inning, sparked by Jake Nickelson's leadoff double off the center-field fence. The Businessmen followed with five straight singles. Tanner Stull drove in two runs while Bryce Mostoller, Alex Dirienzo and Ross Dirienzo all added RBIs in the big inning.
Somerset extended its lead to 7-0 with two more runs in the fourth.
Blough belted the first pitch he saw into the right-center field gap for a double. He moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Stull, then scored on a single by Ross Dirienzo. Designated hitter Drew Hemminger smacked a single and Brent Barron drew a walk to load the bases with one out. Dirienzo came home on Nickelson's RBI grounder.
Ross Dirienzo delivered another RBI single in the bottom of the fifth. Two more runs scored on a grounder by Blough in the sixth. Tanner Stull then singled, driving in Michael VanLenten to provide a 10-run lead and prompt the contest to be called because of the mercy rule.
Both teams are in action again today at 3 p.m. Somerset travels to Bedford while Claysburg plays at Patton.
CLAYSBURG (1): Cunningham ss 211, P. Swope c-p 200, Claar 1b 300, T. Ickes 3b 301, Forshey 2b 301, Stern rf 200, J. Ickes lf 000, Ebersole dh-lf 200, Glass p 200, T. Swope p 000, Runk cf 201. Totals - 21-1-4.
SOMERSET (11): Stull c 402, R. Dirienzo 2b 212, Sleek p 000, Hemminger dh 401, Barron lf 310, Nickelson rf 311, Beaman ph 111, Flyte cf 311, Mostoller 1b 311, Vanlenten 1b 010, A. Dirienzo ss 401, Blough 3b 434. Totals - 27-11-13.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Claysburg000 001 x-1 4 3
Somerset050 213 x-11 13 1
E-A. Dirienzo, T. Ickes, Stern, P. Swope. 2B-T. Ickes, Nickelson, Blough. RBI-Stull, R. Dirienzo 3, Mostoller, A. Dirienzo, Blough 2. WP-Sleek. LP-Glass. SO-Sleek 8, Glass 3. BB-Sleek, Glass 2, P. Swope.
Records: Somerset (3-0); Claysburg (2-1).