---- — By Todd Stanford
For The Daily Item
McALISTERVILLE -- Just when you thought the race for the Tri-Valley League title couldn't get any tighter.
Upper Dauphin, the three-time defending league champ, kept itself in contention Friday afternoon. Ian Buffington threw seven strong innings, Payton Kennerly had a huge day at the plate, and Mac Ney scored the winning run in the sixth for a 6-5 victory over the host Tigers.
"We knew that we were probably going to see their best today," Trojans coach Ryan Lentz said. "I asked who wanted the ball for us. (Buffington) is the guy that stepped up."
Upper Dauphin improves to 7-2 in the TVL with the win (9-4 overall), while East Juniata falls to 6-2 (8-2 overall). Counting Halifax and Newport, there are now four teams in the league with two losses or fewer.
"We need to win out," Lentz said. "It's going to be a tight race."
Buffington fanned nine batters and walked four while yielding seven hits -- only one for extra bases. He faced the minimum in four of the seven innings.
"His fastball moves a little bit," Lentz said. "And he had his curveball working today and he throws a good changeup. It's just a matter of mixing it up."
Kennerly was the only batter on either side with three hits. He also knocked in two runs.
"I'm more of a fastball hitter," Kennerly said. "I kept my head on the ball and just swung away."
"Payton Kennerly came through for me," Lentz said. "He's a kid that I like. He could be in the four-hole before it's all said and done."
Nick Lorenz went the distance and took the loss for East Juniata. He struck out six and walked seven.
"(Lorenz) settled down," Tigers coach Tim Brubaker said. "The first few innings he was a little wild. ... But he and (catcher Ryan Stuck) found the zone and (Lorenz) found a rhythm later in the game."
The score was tied at 5 after East Juniata scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth. That's the way it stayed until the top of the sixth, when Ney led off with a walk. He moved to second on Buffington's sacrifice bunt and came home on a Kane Bouchard single that was misplayed in the outfield.
"That just absolutely kills you," said Brubaker, whose team committed four errors in the game. "If you have errors and then walks together, it just kills you."
East Juniata got two runners on in its half of the sixth, but Buffington got out of the jam when he induced Dillon Leonard to pop out to third.
In the bottom of the seventh, leadoff batter Nick Stahr walked. But, after Buffington whiffed Cole Snyder for the first out, he got Lorenz to hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.
"It was a real good one for the fans," Brubaker said. "We fought hard to come back after starting out a little sluggish."
Lorenz was the only East Juniata batter to get two hits, as he went 2-for-4 on a pair of singles. Jesse Watts doubled in the fourth for the Tigers' only extra-base hit.