---- — By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- Turns out Oakley Whitesel wasn't purposely upping his degree of difficulty to show off Monday.
Mifflinburg's senior ace practically gave Selinsgrove two first-inning runs with a throwing error. He had to keep Seals at third base in consecutive middle innings, and left another pair at second in the later frames.
On top of that, the left-hander threw first-pitch strikes to just 13 of the 32 batters he faced. Not typically a blueprint for success. Yet Whitesel gutted out a complete-game win, surprising himself with 10 strikeouts.
"I didn't think I had 10-strikeout stuff at all," he said. "I was hitting my spots and they were just missing, I guess."
The Wildcats scored five runs in the third inning on three straight two-out hits, and Whitesel made them stand up in the face of several Selinsgrove threats for a 5-3 win.
"It just shows his mentality of getting people out, not panicking when he needs to bear down, and his senior leadership," said Mifflinburg coach Tom Church. "It wasn't a good game for Oakley. It was one of those games where he struggled and couldn't find the strike zone at times. He just battled and got through it.
"He showed his true heart because he could have folded."
The Wildcats (3-2 overall and HAC-I) moved above .500 for the first time in almost a year; a one-run loss April 13 at Selinsgrove made them 4-3 in a season that ended a win shy of the playoffs.
Selinsgrove (1-4, 1-4) endured a two-run division loss for the third time this season.
"We're right there; we could very easily be 4-1 at this point," said Seals coach Brent Beiler. "We had our chances (Monday) -- put guys on base and in scoring position with nobody out maybe three times -- and couldn't put it together. We've got to learn to get them across."
Beiler played for the early lead when he had two-hole hitter Isaiah Rapp sacrifice following a leadoff single by Tyler Cook. After Whitesel fielded the bunt, however, a quick side-arm throw to first went awry, allowing Cook to score and Rapp to get to third base. Rapp then scored on the first of Alex Moyer's two hits.
"I didn't let it get to me, really," Whitesel said. "I trusted my teammates. I knew I just had to keep throwing strikes and my guys would do their best. I try to keep the ball down and let our fielders do the work."
From the first inning on, Whitesel converted pressure into performance.
He got clear of a pair of walks and two wild pitches in the third when two Seals were caught stealing and a third struck out with a runner at third base.
Aidan Greak's leadoff triple in the fourth went for naught when Whitesel induced a popup and fanned two. He also closed the fifth and seventh frames with Ks, leaving Seals at first and second both times.
Of Whitesel's 10 strikeouts, half came when he didn't throw a first-pitch strike. With the exception of his four walks, though, he ran only three three-ball counts.
"He's pretty much get-ahead, stay-ahead, and he couldn't locate the fastball," said Church. "He was throwing it out, up ... (and) they helped us."
In the top of the third, Patrick Crissman and Brian Zimmerman reached with consecutive one-out singles. With two down, Brady Lloyd ripped a two-run double to the gap in right-center. Whitesel followed with a laser to right, scoring Lloyd, before Zach Aurand blasted a towering two-run homer to center.
Seals starter Colton Brouse was otherwise effective, throwing 58 of 88 pitches for strikes including 19 of 27 first pitches. He struck out four without a walk and, like Whitesel, allowed seven hits.
"Their hitters did a good job, but I can't fault (Brouse) at all," said Beiler. "I thought he threw an outstanding game. That's what I want out of my pitchers.
"He was struggling a little bit earlier this year, so if we take one positive out of this it's nice to get him back."