By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG -- Maybe Gavin Enders should use a teammate's bat in every game.
Enders hit the game-winning home run using teammate Tony Bennage's bat Sunday in Mifflinburg's 9-8 seven-inning win over Juniata in the District 13 10-11 Division Area II tournament.
Enders was forced to switch sticks during an at-bat in the fifth inning because his original bat was not listed among the composite bats approved for competition. Enders quickly adjusted to the new bat, sending a 3-1 pitch from Jamie Bailor well over the left-field fence in the top of the seventh to break an eight-all tie.
The game-winner was the first Little League home run Enders ever hit.
"It was kind of a shock when I hit it, because I wasn't expecting it," he said.
The home run was the exclamation point on Enders' strong offensive performance, that included two doubles, three RBis and the homer.
"Gavin just did a fantastic job for us," Mifflinburg manager Gregg Rokavec said.
The long ball from Enders capped a game that was a true tale of two halves. Mifflinburg raced out to an early 8-1 lead before Juniata rallied to tie the game and send it into extra innings.
"We got deflated a little bit," Rokavec said of losing a seven-run lead. "We reminded ourselves of the way we play heads-up baseball. We came back and we battled back. It was fantastic."
Like Mifflinburg, Juniata found its own late-game heroics from Devon Nealman.
Juniata was down to its last out when Nealman came to the plate. Jacob Brooks had settled in relief for Mifflinburg, retiring five straight batters on strikes before Nealman stepped in with a chance to tie the game. He fought off a pitch high-and-inside from Brooks and sent the ball to deep left-center for a tying homer.
Brooks responded in the seventh, pitching a shutout frame for the win.
It seemed unlikely that Juniata would be able to mount a comeback from down seven, but a six-run fourth inning changed everything.
C.J. Bonson reached safely to lead off the inning as a throw to first was dropped, and the floodgates burst open. Bailor followed up a walk and two hit batsmen by tattooing a ball into right-field for a two-run double. Three more runs crossed the plate due in part to savvy baserunning and cut the lead to 8-7 with runners on second and third. With his back to the wall, Brooks reached back and rung up Jared Hutchinson to escape the threat.
Bailor pitched his way out of a jam in the top of the sixth, striking out the last three hitters with the go-ahead run on third. The clutch pitching from Bailor loomed much larger considering the way Brooks settled into a groove.
Mifflinburg wasted little time getting their bats in gear, bringing home two runs in the first inning on a double from Brooks and a groundout from Miller. Brooks drove in another run in the second, as Mifflinburg added two to their lead at 4-0.
Four straight hits to start the third inning helped Mifflinburg extend its lead to 8-0.