NEW BERLIN — When Zeb Hufnagle got to New Berlin Recreation Park for Wednesday’s District 13 championship game between his Mifflinburg Junior Division All-Stars and Selinsgrove, he knew he was getting the ball.
And, essentially, the proverbial keys to Mifflinburg’s car.
With Hufnagle leading the way, Mifflinburg put together a 10-3 win over Selinsgrove to force a second game to decide the District 13 championship.
Game 2 will be 5:30 p.m., Friday.
“As coaches, we didn’t have to say a whole lot the last two nights. We told them, ‘take the keys to the car and go play the game,’” said Mifflinburg manager Glenn Miller. “They’re having fun, they’re communicating, and they’re flying around and making plays. That’s all we can ask from them.
“It’s been fun to watch,” added Miller.
The scoring output Wednesday was a far cry from the first meeting between the two teams on July 1, when Selinsgrove took a 3-1 victory to send Mifflinburg into the elimination bracket.
And what made the rematch fun to watch for Mifflinburg’s manager was what transpired in the first inning.
Mifflinburg sent 13 batters to the plate in the opening frame and scored nine runs.
Highlighting the inning was a three-run single by Hufnagle, along with RBI singles from Nate Chambers and Aaron Bolick.
“Well, I watched the first two pitches — they were good pitches but I missed them — but I saw the third one and I grooved it,” said Hufnagle, who was able to clear the bases with the runners taking off at the crack of the bat. “The center fielder laid out and the ball got under his glove, so we got fortunate on that one.
“We just went from there. That was a good start and that got us through the game,” added Hufnagle.
For Miller, the start to the game couldn’t have gone any better than what occurred.
“Obviously, nine runs in the first — you can’t ask for more than that — and we played good defense from there on out,” said Mifflinburg’s manager.
That included a 1-3-2 double play to end the first after Selinsgrove’s Tucker Teats doubled and stole third before getting thrown out at home trying to score on a grounder by Jake Anders.
That play only bolstered Hufnagle’s pitching, who in the early goings allowed just two hits and an unearned run in the third.
“So, basically you just got to throw strikes, and it doesn’t matter if they hit it because you have confidence in the guys behind you,” said Hufnagle.
Selinsgrove got two runs back in the top of the fifth on another double by Teats, but Mifflinburg answered back by scoring an unearned run in the bottom half of the inning.
Hufnagle pitched his way out of the fifth by striking out the final batter. He would pick up his sixth strikeout in the sixth before being pulled after 5 2/3 innings upon reaching his pitch limit.
“(Zeb) was great. We purposefully gave him almost a full week of rest. Last week he wasn’t feeling the best, so we tried to get through the Berwick and Danville games without using him,” said Miller. “Tonight, he knew he was getting the ball and he was ready to go. You can’t ask for more from a kid than that. He reached 95 pitches and he said, “I feel great and I want to keep pitching.’”
Ethan Shoemaker then entered in relief of Hufnagle. He faced five batters — getting two to strikeout and the other two out on a 3-6 double play.
“The double play to end the first was big. We’re playing great defense (right now). We have kids who can pitch, but we know we’re not a dominant staff, so we have to throw strikes and play defense — make all the routine plays and make one great play a game,” said Miller.
“We made a couple of what I would say great plays, and in a game like this — that’s huge. In the top of the top of the seventh (you got) the first base-second base tag double play. They’re playing defense, and they’re into the game.”
Now its on to the second and deciding game for the District 13 championship, and Miller hopes the wave his team is riding continues.
“The whole tournament we’ve had plenty of runners in scoring position — whether it was a big hit, timely hit or bloop hit, whatever you want to call it — but the ball is bouncing our way right now,” said Miller.
“As long as we’re playing loose and having fun, I can’t ask for more than that. We get another game out of it — a true rubber match. I told the guys it’s just another baseball game. We control what we can control — go out, have fun and let it fly, and we’ll see what happens.”
District 13 Tournament
Junior Division championship game
at New Berlin Recreation Park
Mifflinburg 10, Selinsgrove 3
Selinsgrove 001 020 0 — 3-8-2
Mifflinburg 900 010 x — 10-5-1
Sylvan Martin, Jake Anders (1), Ben Gearhart (3), Max Maurer (3) and Mark Pastore. Zeb Hufnagle, Ethan Shoemaker (6) and Shoemaker, Jarrett Miller (4).
WP: Hufnagle. LP: Martin.
Selinsgrove hitters: Josh Domaracki, walk, RBI, run scored; Tucker Teats, 3-for-4, 2 doubles, RBI; Steven Miller, walk; Caleb Hicks, single; Gearhart, double, run; Andrew Gephart, 2-for-2, double; Maurer, single.
Mifflinburg hitters: Miller, single, 2 walks, 2 runs scored; Shoemaker, walk, 2 HBP, 2 runs, RBI; Hufnagle, single, walk, 3 RBI, run; Lucas Kurtz, walk, run; Nate Chambers, single, walk, RBI, run; Aaron Bolick, 2-for-4, RBI, run; Logan Smith, run; Gage Ritter, single, RBI, run; Cyruss Sholvin, walk, stolen base.