Johnston gets balance in second-round victory

By John Hartsock

jhartsock@altoonamirror.com

JOHNSTOWN — So far, so good in the AAABA national tournament for Altoona’s Johnston Realty entry.

Altoona made it two victories in as many outings Tuesday afternoon at Johnstown’s Roxbury Park, capitalizing on solid pitching, timely hitting and a couple crucial mistakes by its opponent, the Columbus Jets, to record a 7-4 win.

The victory gives Altoona a 2-0 record in Pool D competition. Altoona will meet Youngstown, also 2-0 in Pool D, today at noon at a site to be named.

Today’s game will determine seeding supremacy for the quarterfinal round, which will be contested on Thursday.

Altoona got superb pitching from young right-hander Dylan Gearhart, who will be entering his senior year at Mount Union High School this fall.

Gearhart worked 72/3 innings — the first seven scoreless — before departing in the top of the eighth inning after giving up only two earned runs and seven hits while striking out seven batters.

“I felt good today,” said Gearhart, who received credit for the pitching victory. “I was able to locate all my pitches, and that’s what really helped me. All four of my pitches — fast ball, curve ball, slider and changeup — were working.”

Gearhart won what the final score did not reveal was a pitcher’s duel with Columbus right-hander John Howard, who struck out nine batters and allowed only six hits in 7 1/3 innings, but was victimized by teammates’ errors and gave up seven runs, six of which were unearned.

“Both starting pitchers did a heck of a job today,” Altoona manager Dan Servello said. “Dylan did a great job for us. I told him on the way over here to just throw the best that he could, and he kept on working today.”

Altoona broke through for three unearned runs in the bottom of the third inning to take a 3-0 lead. After catcher Hunter Blair of Mount Union High School walked, shortstop Cory Storm, a Hollidaysburg Area High School grad, bunted him to second base. Blair came around to score when Philipsburg-Osceola High School’s Keegan Soltis lined a single to left field.

After a Howard wild pitch moved Soltis to second base, center fielder John Servello — a Hollidaysburg grad and current University of Toledo player — hit a fly ball to deep center field that Ryan Callihan raced down and apparently had a bead on near the fence. But the ball tipped off Callihan’s glove, allowing Soltis to score and Servello to move to third base. One out later, a seeing-eye single through the left side by right fielder Drew Weglarz, a Huntingdon High School grad, scored Soltis to make it 3-0.

It stayed that way until the top of the eighth inning, when Columbus pushed across two runs to draw to within 3-2. Left fielder Zach Stiteler started the rally with a two-out single, and scored on a double to the base of the right field fence by first baseman Caleb Struewing.

Third baseman Garrett O’Reilly’s single to center field scored Struewing, and chased Gearhart from the game. Ben Briggs, a right-hander from Huntingdon High School, came on in relief to get the final out of the eighth inning when shortstop Alex Shapiro’s line drive was snared by a leaping Storm before the ball could get into the outfield.

“Their kid put a great swing on the ball, and Cory did a great job of getting upstairs and pulling it down,” Dan Servello said of the play that guaranteed Altoona of maintaining its 3-2 lead.

Batting around, Altoona answered with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to pull out to a 7-2 lead. John Servello clubbed a one-out homer over the left field fence to put Altoona ahead, 4-2. After combined fielding and throwing errors by third baseman O’Reilly put Lennox Pugh at second base, and a passed ball by catcher Ben Loya moved Pugh to third, Pugh scored when Weglarz grounded to second base and Pugh beat the throw to the plate.

Designated hitter Trenton Creppage singled and Drew Bankovich walked, loading the bases and continuing the rally. A single inside the first-base line by Hollidaysburg grad Tyler Treese scored both Creppage and Bankovich, extending Altoona’s lead to 7-2.

“I thought the few errors that we had were critical for us,” Columbus manager Tony Perz said.

Dan Servello stressed the importance of adding on to the lead.

“We had some timely hitting that inning,” Dan Servello said. “Getting the home run gave us a little cushion, and that was a great hit by Tyler Treese, who really gets dialed in at the plate when the bases are occupied.

“We try to win each inning, and stay on top each inning,” Servello said.

Getting the extra runs in the eighth inning proved pivotal for Altoona, as Columbus put two runs on the board in the top of the ninth inning. Callihan’s two-run homer to left scored designated hitter Cole Hufman, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, and made it a 7-4 game.

Briggs closed out the save by striking out two batters in the ninth inning, including second baseman Jordan Flynn to end the game.

“We’re just trying to stay with our game plan,” Dan Servello said. “That is, have our guys attacking the ball at the plate, being solid on defense, and hoping that our pitchers can give us innings.”

COLUMBUS (4): Callihan cf 513, Flynn 2b 400, Stiteler lf 411, Struewing 1b 412, O’Reilly 3b 301, Shapiro ss 401, Loya c 300, Howard p 000, Whitney p 000, Hufman dh 310, Shultz rf 400. Totals — 34-4-8.

ALTOONA JOHNSTON REALTY (7): Storm ss 400, Soltis 2b 411, J. Servello cf 422, Pugh 3b 410, Weglarz rf 411, Gearhart p 000, Briggs p 000, Creppage dh 411, Montecalvo lf 301, D. Bankovich lf 000, Treese 1b 301, Blair c 210, A. Bankovich c 100. Totals — 33-7-7.

SCORE BY INNINGS

Columbus 000 000 022–4 8 3

Altoona 003 000 04X–7 7 0

E–O’Reilly 2, Callihan. 2B–Struewing. HR–Callihan, J. Servello. RBI–Callihan 2, Struewing, O’Reilly, Soltis, J. Servello, Weglarz 2, Treese 2. SB–Callihan, O’Reilly. SAC–Storm. HBP–O’Reilly by Gearhart. DP–Altoona turned one (Pugh to Soltis to Treese). LOB–Columbus 7, Altoona 6.

PITCHING

COLUMBUS: Howard (L) 7 1/3IP, 6H, 7R, 1ER, 3BB, 9SO; Whitney 2/3 IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 1SO.

ALTOONA: Gearhart (W) 7 2/3IP, 7H, 2R, 2ER, 2BB, 7SO; Briggs (S) 1 1/3IP, 1H, 2R, 2ER, 1BB, 2SO.

WP–Howard, Briggs. PB–Loya.

Umpires: Nick Spinelli (plate); Wes Meyers (first base); Dave Mastovich (second base); Jason Dorofey (third base).

Time of game: 2 hours, 14 minutes.

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