MANSFIELD — The Mifflinburg Wildcats traveled to Mansfield University on Tuesday to take on the No. 1 seed Athens Wildcats, who came in with an 18-1 record and boasted a strong pitching staff.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats from Mifflinburg didn’t care about their opponent’s record or the incredible ERA of their pitchers.
The boys from Mifflinburg came ready to hit the ball — and they did just that in a 10-4 victory over Athens in the District IV Class 4A semifinals.
“We finally hit the ball today. We didn’t hit the ball on Saturday (in the quarterfinals) at all. We only had four hits (against Danville),” said Mifflinburg coach Tom Church. “(Athens senior Luke Horton) is a great pitcher. Our kids came focused today. They had to do what they had to do, and we got base hit after base hit. Starting off when you get those kids rolling at the top, everyone else seems to feed off that.”
Mifflinburg battered the previously undefeated Horton for 11 hits and eight runs in three-plus innings of work.
Troy Dressler, who was hitting out of the three spot, led Mifflinburg at the plate as he went 4-for-4 with two doubles, two RBI and one run scored.
“It was good to see. We knew we had to score runs behind (Zeb Hufnagle) to get the win. It just makes him more comfortable and settle in,” said Dressler.
“(I was) just trying to keep it simple and do what I know — which is just slapping the ball out there.”
Zeb Hufnagle, who helped himself with a double at the plate, went 6 2/3 innings and struck out four. He would allow three runs (one earned) on four hits and five walks.
“The defense made a couple plays and I had so much confidence. All the confidence in the world just to throw strikes and let the defense make plays,” said Hufnagle.
Mifflinburg set the tone early with a run in the top of the first. Andrew Diehl reached on an infield single and moved to second on a groundout. Dressler came to the plate and roped a double to right field to score Diehl and make it 1-0.
Lucas Whittaker and Zach Werman both hit the ball hard, but Athens centerfielder Jaren Glisson was able to track them down and end the inning.
Hufnagle would find some trouble in the bottom half. Horton walked to start the frame for Athens, but he would be wiped out on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Caleb Nichols. After Cam Sullivan lined out to center, Mason Lister and Luke Kraft worked back-to-back walks to load the bases with two outs.
Hufnagle got out of the jam when he got Glisson to ground out to Wertman at second.
“The nerves got to me a little bit (in the first inning), but after that I settled in,” Hufnagle said.
Horton got a groundout to start the second, but trouble started brewing again with a walk to Luke Rokavec. After a fly out, the Athens pitcher was called for a balk when he went to his mouth and didn’t wipe his hand off before going to throw the next pitch. That put Rokavec in scoring position on second, and Tanner Zimmerman made Athens pay with an RBI single to center to make it 2-0.
Horton worked around a single to Diehl as he got a strikeout to end the inning and keep it a two-run game.
After a 1-2-3 bottom of the second from Hufnagle, Mifflinburg broke things open in the third.
Dressler singled on a line drive to right and Whittaker walked to open the frame. After a flyout, Kurtz smacked an RBI single to score Dressler. Rokavec then connected on a single to center to load the bases.
Horton got a strikeout, but Mifflinburg got a huge two-run single on an 0-2 count from Zimmerman to push the lead to 5-0.
Diehl followed that up with a two-run single of his own and all of the sudden it was 7-0 in favor of Mifflinburg.
“That’s a big inning for us. We’ve got to keep doing that,” Church said.
For Hufnagle, his team providing him a big lead gave him even more confidence on the hill.
“It just gives me more fuel in the tank. Confidence through the roof ... I’m pitching with a seven-run lead. I mean I can’t really do much wrong,” he said.
Athens showed signs of life in the bottom of the third. Horton walked to open the inning and moved to second on a single from Nichols. After a groundout, Lister put the ball in play and a throwing error would scored both runners. Lister reached safely but was caught trying to get to third on the play. Hufnagle induced a groundout to end the threat and keep it 7-2.
Mifflinburg responded in the top of the fourth when Nate Chambers, who came on to run for Whittaker after a walk, scored on a wild pitch from Kraft to make it 8-2.
Glisson doubled in the bottom of the fourth for Athens, but he would be stranded at second thanks to three straight groundouts.
Mifflinburg added another run in the fifth thanks to a sacrifice fly from Whittaker to score Zimmerman, who had reached on a walk to start the inning.
In the top of the seventh, Hufnagle doubled and courtesy runner Lane Hook later scored on an RBI single from Dressler.
Hufnagle got the first two outs of the bottom of the seventh before Nichols singled and ended the Mifflinburg pitcher’s day.
Athens was able to string together two more hits from Sullivan and Lister to load the bases. Kraft then came up and ripped a two-run single to cut the lead to 10-4.
Whittaker settled down and got the game-ending fly out as Mifflinburg punched its ticket to the District IV Class AAAA title game.
For Mifflinburg, Diehl had three hits to go along with one RBI and one run, while Zimmerman had two hits, three RBI and two runs, and Kurtz finished with two hits, one RBI and one run.
Whittaker had one hit and one RBI, and Rokavec had a single and scored twice.
Church was thrilled to get a big win over a strong Athens squad.
“They are a great team. Hats off to them, they played hard today. It was just our day,” Church said.
Athens was led by Lister with two hits and two runs scored, while Nichols had two hits and scored twice. Kraft had one hit and two RBI, and Sullivan had a hit and scored once.
Also for Athens, Glisson had his double and Horton scored once.
Horton took the loss, going 3 1/3 innings with eight runs (seven earned) allowed on 11 hits and three walks. He would strike out two Mifflinburg hitters.
Kraft went 2 2/3 innings and struck out two while allowing one run on one hit and three walks. Cam Sullivan pitched the seventh and would strike out two batters. He gave up one run on two hits.
Mifflinburg will now prepare for a showdown with rival Montoursville at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Bowman Field with the district title on the line.
“It’s going to be great,” Church said of the D4 finals matchup with Montoursville. “They are a great baseball team and they have a heck of a coach. He does a great job coaching those kids. We’re going to have to go up there and see what we can do against them. We lost to them twice by one run and lost to Midd-West by one run in both games. Four games we lost by one run. We should have won both games, but that’s just the way it is. That’s baseball.”
Dressler and Hufnagle are fired up for the opportunity.
“It’s going to be very energetic (at Bowman Field). We haven’t done much the past couple years and we want to keep it going this year,” Dressler said.
“They beat us by one run both times we played them this year, so we definitely owe them one. It’s hard to beat a team three times, so we’re going to go up there and give it our all,” Hufnagle added.
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