---- — By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG -- Andrew Leitzel made fans on both sides of the diamond catch their breath with the way he played a routine comebacker Wednesday.
The Mifflinburg side feared their junior righty's decision would ruin his shutout bid and add to Danville's momentum; the Ironmen faithful hoped it was the break they desperately needed.
To Leitzel, it wasn't worth all the fuss. It was hardly a bump on his road to a two-hitter in the Wildcats' 5-0 win in a Heartland-I game.
"I think Andrew has so much confidence in what he does that nothing wavers him," said Mifflinburg coach Tom Church. "He knows he's going to throw the ball around the plate and he knows the defense behind him is going to make the plays. We played real big behind Andrew (on Wednesday)."
Leitzel had pitched more than four scoreless innings when a walk and a couple of misplays filled the bases for Danville with one down in the fifth.
When he fielded Garrett Krum's grounder to the mound, Leitzel had a tailor-made chance for an inning-ending (and shutout-preserving) double play. Instead of starting it with an easy force out at the plate, however, he wheeled and threw to second base. Fortunately for Leitzel and the Wildcats, shortstop Brady Lloyd was on the same page and managed to turn a slick 1-6-3 double play.
Inning over. Shutout intact. Breathing resumed.
"It was just instinct, throwing to second," Leitzel explained later. "I should have went to home, though. It wasn't the right thing."
That was as close as Leitzel came to losing his shutout -- that and a tough ground ball with two on and two outs in the fourth that Lloyd turned into a gold-star play.
Leitzel retired 11 of the first 12 batters he faced with Scott Heeter fouling off six two-strike pitches to walk in a 12-pitch at-bat. Only five other Ironmen reached base and Leitzel struck out just three, meaning the Wildcats defense handled the other 18 outs.
"(I) just throw strikes and try to give up the least hits as possible," Leitzel said. "Strikeouts are good, but fly balls and ground balls are just as good. I know they'll get the ball for me, that's why I don't worry about it."
Oakley Whitesel knocked in three runs with a bases-loaded double in the second inning, and Lloyd drove in a pair as Mifflinburg improved to 9-5, 5-5 HAC-I. Danville (4-7, 3-5) lost its fourth consecutive game.
"This came down to opportunities," said Ironmen coach Devin Knorr. "That's the name of the game: You have to take advantage of the opportunities you have, you have to limit the opportunities other teams have.
"Really, after the first couple innings they didn't have many. We dug ourselves a real big hole with a tough play we've got to make and big hit. That's the ballgame."
The Wildcats loaded the bases with one out in the first inning with two walks and a catcher's interference call, but they didn't score. An inning later they filled the bases again and got on the board when Lloyd was hit by a pitch. Whitesel then crushed a 1-1 pitch to the gap in right-center for a 4-0 lead.
"Their big stick comes up and hits a ball in the gap, (and) all of a sudden it's 4-0 in a heartbeat," said Knorr. "We get a chance to do some damage with two outs and bases loaded and we hit a double-play ball."
Lloyd, who doubled in a two-out run in the bottom of the fourth, likely saved two runs in the top of the inning when he ranged behind the bag at second to take a sure hit away from Heeter.
"Brady goes and gets a lot of balls that people probably wouldn't ever get," said Church.