Mark Mullery took his first hacks cold off the bench Saturday.
Not just 4-plus innings cold, mind you, when he got the call to pinch-hit. But nine days cold since his last varsity at-bat.
The Danville junior obviously warmed up during an eight-pitch tussle with Montoursville’s Quinton Kuntz. Because after getting ahead in the count 3-1, Mullery fouled off three consecutive pitches before hammering one to deep left field for a two-run double.
Mullery’s hit highlighted an eight-run fifth inning, coming smack in the middle of a string of nine Ironmen who reached base (seven of whom scored).
The improbable rally erased a six-run deficit and propelled Danville past the visiting Warriors, 13-10, in a Heartland-I battle.
“I had a good batting practice in the cage before the game,” said Mullery. “That was a pitch right down the middle, and I just put a good swing on it.”
For half the game it appeared as though Montoursville broke free of a weather-plagued slump.
The Warriors played only four games prior to Saturday, winning once while scoring 21 runs with a lineup featuring all-state sluggers Andrew Null and Cam Ott. Against Danville, they scored nine times in the third and fourth innings alone for a 9-3 lead.
“We got ourselves in that position, but we might have made one bad play. For the most part, they were just hitting the ball,” said Ironmen coach Devin Knorr. “Montoursville is the best 1-and-4 team in the state; there is absolutely zero doubt about that. Our kids were able to take their best shot and keep going. That’s a credit to tough kids.”
Danville (5-5 overall, 3-3 HAC-I) loaded the bases in the first and plated runs with a groundout and balk. In the third, they knotted the score at 3 when Zach Brent punched a first-pitch fastball over the shortstop for a two-out RBI.
The Warriors’ six-run fourth, however, was the haymaker. Nine-hole hitter Nick Russo ripped a two-run double, and Derrick Evans knocked in a pair with a two-out hit as five consecutive hitters reached and scored.
“We felt like we had taken some good swings and we hadn’t gotten a whole lot of opportunities, but it was still the middle of the game,” said Knorr. “We thought if we scored a couple runs, put ourselves back in the game, that we were going to have a shot in the later innings.
“We certainly didn’t expect to put up an eight-run fifth. To the kids’ credit, they battled and kept their composure the whole time. They never quit and strung together some good at-bats.”
After the Ironmen failed to answer in the bottom of the fourth, Knorr and his staff began to plot moves to get more players involved. They wanted to see sophomore Joey Strausser work behind the plate, and shifting him from third base opened a spot for Mullery. The changes were relayed during the home fifth, a true defensive substitution as Mullery’s turn in the order seven hitters away.
“Certainly, at that point, we didn’t see him coming up at 9-5 with the bases loaded and being in a real pressure spot,” said Knorr.
Zach Kozick started the inning with a hit from the nine hole, and, after a foul out, Garrett Krum doubled and Shayne Riley singled in Kozick. Brent and Strausser worked walks, the latter forcing in a run to make it 9-5.
That brought up Mullery’s spot, or, more accurately, catcher Colton Riley’s place, as Danville’s moves hadn’t been formally made.
“We talked about it a bit and decided Mark’s ready for an at-bat,” said Knorr. “He gets his opportunity and he comes up big for us. What a great job by a great kid.”
Mullery was 6-for-15 on the season with a double and two RBIs, which he matched with one swing. Matt Schiffino and Kozick (again) had run-scoring hits for a 10-9 lead before the second out was made.
An inning later, Strausser and Mullery hit consecutive singles and scored on a Dan Seebold hit and Kozick groundout, respectively, to make it 13-10.
“You’ve got get insurance runs to be safe,” said Mullery. “They got a guy to third in the seventh inning and that could have been huge without those runs.”
Bryson Cromley allowed two earned runs on one hit over 2 1/3 innings of relief for the win. Tyler Fisher pitched the final 1 1/3 and shrugged off a leadoff double in the seventh for a save.
“Exciting,” said Knorr. “I couldn’t be prouder of them. It’s a great win for them.”
Mark Mullery took his first hacks cold off the bench Saturday.
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