HERSHEY — While an anxious Mifflinburg side obviously didn’t want to test fate by going to yet another critical baseball game, it’s a mighty good thing they were packing a mulligan as they headed for home late Sunday night.
Without it, the Region 5 champs would have seen their bid for a state championship disappear with a disappointing setback.
With it, Shawn Cooper’s bunch has another chance to win it … and celebrate.
Although Mifflinburg opened the day with a convincing 15-0 victory over Young Twp. for that aforementioned mulligan, a 6-1 reversal to two-time defending champion Hamburg means they’ll need to play again.
Everyone will get back after it at 7 p.m. tonight at Hershey’s Memorial Field, when the Pennsylvania American Legion’s Division II championship will be decided.
Ethan Naftzinger spun a complete-game five-hitter, handcuffing Mifflinburg as the Berks Countians staved off elimination for a second straight outing. Hamburg outscored Young Twp. 18-13 earlier, setting the stage for its first showdown with Mifflinburg.
Naftzinger finished with four strikeouts and did not walk a batter.
“Getting 15 runs in that first game and just pounding the ball the way we did, I thought, ‘Boy, I hope we save a little of that for the next game,’” Cooper said. “We didn’t.
“I tip my hat to their pitcher,” Cooper added. “We helped him by swinging at a lot of first pitches. But there’s always tomorrow night, fortunately, and that’s what I just told them. We won about 15 or 16 games in a row and tonight we got beat.”
Eric Zimmerman banged out two hits in three trips and scored Mifflinburg’s only run on a two-out single by Michael Warren.
By then, however, Hamburg led 6-0.
Denting Mifflinburg starter Tony Bennage for two runs in the first on Brady Adams’ two-out single and adding another in the second when Austin Gromlich’s sky-high infield pop fell in, Naftzinger had all the runs he would actually need.
Especially since he retired 13 straight batters at one point.
Mifflinburg appeared to have a chance to break through in the fifth when Bryce Koonsman blooped a single to center and Colin Miller was able to beat out a slow grounder. When the ball shook loose at first, Koonsman tried to go to third.
However, first baseman Owen Zimmerman recovered the ball and threw to third for the out.
Hamburg added insurance in its own half of the fifth, scoring three times after reliever Reed Wagner retired the first two batters. While Wagner hit one batter and walked the next two, a pair of fielding errors eventually allowed both runners to score.
So, by the time Zimmerman dented the plate on Warren’s base hit, it was way too late.
Fortunately, Mifflinburg will have another chance to claim state gold for the first time.
And while little seemed to go right against Hamburg, everything went splendidly earlier as Mifflinburg scored six times in the first and added eight runs in the second against the Indiana Countians. By then, Zimmerman and Miller each had four runs batted in.
“That’s a testament to everyone doing their job,” Zimmerman said after Game 1. “Everyone giving 100 percent. Everyone getting on base and doing a job. RBIs just kind of fall wherever they want in the lineup and they just happened to fall on me and Colin.”
Miller’s three-run triple in the bottom of the first — Mifflinburg’s first hit of the game — broke the game open and had Cooper’s bunch sitting on a 5-0 lead. Zimmerman added a three-run triple in the second, increasing an already-large edge to 12-0.
“I was looking for just a base hit to score another run,” said Miller (after Game 1), who was able to reach third when lunging left fielder Zach Hreha couldn’t come up with it. “The guy made a great attempt, but it happened to be in our favor and it got by him.
“I was not expecting a triple, but I’ll take it.”
Zimmerman, Miller, Koonsman and Josh Foster each finished with two hits for Mifflinburg, which worked over a quartet of Young Twp. pitchers for nine hits and 10 walks. Cooper’s crew also reached base three times by absorbing pitches in the first two innings.
Warren’s home run in the fourth inning accounted for Mifflinburg’s other hit.
Bennage, Allen Stamm and Gavin Martin split the pitching chores for Mifflinburg, yielding a pair of singles while striking out six hitters. They walked two and hit one.
Stamm, Martin and Zimmerman will be available tonight with championship gold awaiting someone … either Mifflinburg or Hamburg.
“We just have to come in there with the mindset that we’re going to score runs,” Cooper said. “We’ll play Mifflinburg kind of baseball tomorrow and hope we can get the W. That’s the beautiful thing about it. … We have another chance.”
AMERICAN LEGION STATE TOURNAMENT
at Hershey High School
WINNERS BRACKET FINAL
MIFFLINBURG 15, YOUNG TOWNSHIP 0 (5 inn.)
Young Twp 000`00 — 0`2`1
Mifflinburg 680`1x — 15`9`0
Ethan Prugh, Nate Slapinski (1), Rhys Davies (2), Logan Bonnoni (2) and Brice Laurenti. Tony Bennage, Allen Stamm (3), Gavin Martin (5) and Josh Foster.
WP: Bennage; LP: Prugh.
Young Twp: Brady Yard 1-for-2.
Mifflinburg: Eric Zimmerman 2-for-3, 2 runs, triple, 3 stolen bases, 4 RBIs; Colin Miller 2-for-3, 2 runs, triple, 4 RBIs; Foster 2-for-2, 2 runs, hbp, walk, RBI; Bryce Koonsman 2-for-2, 2 runs, 2 walks, RBI; Warren 1-for-2, 2 runs, homer (4th, solo), 2 RBIs; Gavin Enders, walk, hbp, stolen base, RBI; Denzel Sampsell, 2 runs, RBI.
HAMBURG 6, MIFFLINBURG 1
Mifflinburg 000`001`0 — 1`5`3
Hamburg 210`030`x — 6`8`0
Tony Bennage, Reed Wagner (5) and Josh Foster; Ethan Naftzinger and Austin Gromlich.
WP: Naftzinger; LP: Bennage.
Mifflinburg: Eric Zimmerman 2-for-3, run, double, stolen base; Michael Warren 1-for-3, RBI; Bryce Koonsman 1-for-3; Colin Miller 1-for-2.
Hamburg: Tarik Feick 2-for-3, run, stolen base; Brady Adams 2-for-4, 2 RBIs; Naftzinger 1-for-2, 2 runs, walk; Reece Adam 1-for-2, run, 2 sacs; A.Gromlich 1-for-4, RBI; Jarod Sterner 1-for-4; Colin Gromlich 0-for-2, run, walk; Cory Evangelista 0-for-2, run, walk, hbp.