By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
HALIFAX -- Trey Pritchard said he felt fine after the violent collision, though his body language suggested otherwise. He insisted he heard no birds and saw no stars while shaking it off.
It was a good thing, too. Because just three pitches after East Juniata's Dalton Rowe plowed through him, Halifax's catcher was forced to make another play at the plate -- one that may have saved Tuesday's game and possibly secured the Tri-Valley League championship.
"I knew it was going to be a close game," said Pritchard, "so I knew that was going to be a big play."
The Wildcats won the pivotal TVL game, 3-2, despite a two-hit, 11-strikeout performance by Tigers pitcher Nick Lorenz. Halifax starter Hunter Hilinski made a three-run third inning stand up, getting the final out with the tying run at third base.
Halifax (14-4, 13-2 TVL) emerged from a logjam of teams atop the league to take sole possession of first place with only a trip to Juniata remaining. A win Thursday would clinch the TVL crown outright, while a loss could bring East Juniata (12-4, 11-3), Upper Dauphin (15-5, 13-3) and possibly Newport (13-4, 10-3) back into the mix.
"I would be a liar if I said we thought we'd be in the top three -- and it's not because I don't have faith in my kids. I knew they'd come to play," said Wildcats coach Rick Ansel, who shared the 2011 title with reigning three-time champ Upper Dauphin. "But nobody thought that."
Each starter faced a bases-loaded situation in the early innings. Lorenz worked free of his with a pair of strikeouts and a heart-stopping line out to second baseman Jeremy Pannebaker. Hilinski's was a bit more interesting.
Ryan Stuck, Rowe and Kyle Hart singled on consecutive pitches to fill the bases with no outs in the East Juniata half of the second. After a strikeout, Dillon Leonard hit a slow curve through the middle that scored Stuck and gave Rowe a chance. The throw from center fielder Jarrett Hoy beat Rowe by several feet and the Tiger attempted to jar the ball from Pritchard's grasp by barreling into him.