Bedford put together a complete effort on Tuesday night.
To be exact, the Hurricanes had a championship performance.
Bedford tallied eight runs in the first two innings and then rode a blue-collar pitching effort to a 9-2 victory over visiting Claysburg in the decisive game of the Cambria American Legion League playoff championship series.
“When we got the news (Monday) that we were going to be home, they responded to that very well,” Bedford manager Kelbi Berg said, referring to a rule that enabled his team to host the finale after the Hurricanes forced another contest with a 5-2 victory when facing elimination on Monday.
“They took us down four times in the season and we are very evenly matched teams,” Berg said. “We’re going to miss them in the regional because they are a very good team and they would only make the regional better.”
Bedford will take a 24-4 record, including a 5-1 showing in the playoffs, into Saturday’s American Legion Region 7 Tournament. League playoff runner-up Claysburg is eliminated despite losing only four games this season – all against Bedford. As host of the Region 7 Tournament, Somerset also will advance to regionals out of the Cambria League.
“These two teams, we ended up 4-4 (against each other),” Claysburg manager Dave Aungst said. “If we played another eight times, I’d expect nothing different. They’ve got class kids over there. They’ve got quality ballplayers and quality pitching, just like we do.
“They were able to get the balls where they needed them in key situations when we had runners in scoring position. They were able to get that pitch and make a play.”
Claysburg led 1-0 with an unearned run in the first inning, but the damage might have been worse had Bedford left-hander Eric Grace not worked out of the jam.
Bedford answered with four runs on five hits in the first, four runs on four hits in the second, and one run on two hits in the third.
“The bats were slow the last couple of games but they came to life this game and we scored a lot of runs, which we needed,” said Bedford No. 2 hitter Isaac Stern, who had three hits, including a triple, two runs and two RBI.
Grace helped his cause by going 2-for-2 at the plate with two runs and two RBI. Center fielder Spencer McInroy had two hits and three runs as well as a spectacular diving catch on Claysburg’s Presley Swope’s sinking drive to open the top of the seventh.
Ty Black had two hits, and his towering drive to left-center hit the top of the high chain-link fence and fell back on the field for a double. Dylan Foor had two hits, and Austin Montgomery ripped a two-run double.
“It was huge,” Berg said of Bedford’s offensive production. “We started (three) innings with the leadoff guy on base. There was only one guy in the lineup held without a hit. Anytime you have that in a lineup you win a ballgame.”
Grace pitched 32⁄3 innings, keeping Claysburg in check while working around seven walks. He gave up only one earned run.
Lefty Dylan Downs entered in the fourth. Kasy Hamm, the first batter he faced, singled but Bedford left fielder Kyle Droz threw out Swope attempting to score from second, ending the inning.
“I just came in to throw strikes,” Downs said. “I knew my defense is going to come out and do their job for me. Throwing strikes was my main goal.”
Downs retired the next seven batters in order and nine of the final 10 he faced. Only an error after three players converged on the same pop fly to shallow center interrupted the streak of outs.
“Dylan (Downs), as a young kid, a freshman (this spring), you can’t say enough about his composure on the mound. It looks like he has ice water in his veins,” Berg said. “Eric (Grace) struggled with his control early. He battled his way back. He’s a fighter. He’s a wrestler and he has that mentality. He did a great job.”
Berg said his team has bonded throughout the playoff run.
“Any time you have four schools that come together after trying to beat each other all spring and win a district championship, it’s going to be tough for them to come together at first,” said Berg, who has players from Bedford, Northern Bedford, Everett and Tussey Mountain high schools on his roster. “But we carried on. We got cold at the middle of the season. But we came back strong.”
Aungst pondered what might have been.
“We haven’t been able to open things up and get the timely hit,” Aungst said. “We hit some hard balls. We hit balls right at people. Unfortunately that’s the game of baseball.
“It’s not your night. That’s just the way it goes,” he added. “I still wouldn’t trade these guys for anybody. I’m proud of them. That’s a heck of a team in there, a team that could make some noise this weekend (at regionals). Unfortunately right now they’re not going to get to show it. I wish (Bedford) luck in the regionals. I’m still going to pull every angle I can to try to get us there.”