WELLSBORO — The Pennsylvania Little League 8-10 year-old state tournament stumbled out of the gate due to field issues in Wellsboro on Wednesday.
Athens and Hollidaysburg were suppose to square off on the “back field” of the Wellsboro complex at 1:30 p.m., but the field was not ready and that forced a four-plus hour delay to the game.
Unfortunately for the District 15 and Section 3 champions from Athens, their state tournament opener would also be a struggle from the start.
Athens gave up four runs in the top of the first inning on Wednesday evening and never recovered as the local squad dropped a 14-0 decision to Hollidaysburg in five innings.
“Momentum is everything in baseball. Being able to get out (in the) top of the first inning, get some momentum for the boys, they really thrive off that, so that was a good start,” said Hollidaysburg coach Jim McGough.
Despite the rough start, the Athens coaches felt their team would bounce back and give the Hollidaysburg All-Stars a serious challenge.
“We’ve been down before. We (were) down the whole sectional tournament, and these kids just have tremendous heart and we had full confidence that they would rally. We’ve been there before and we expected them to come back strong,” said Athens coach Jason Wanck.
Athens’ defense settled down over the next two innings, but Hollidaysburg broke things open in the top of the fourth. Taking advantage of a pair of errors, the Section 4 champions from the Altoona area scored four runs to make it an 8-0 game.
Hollidaysburg ended the contest early thanks to a six-run outburst in the top of the fifth.
“I think the kids were just a little tight, you know the first state game (and) it’s been an emotional few days for them. Celebrating (the sectional title) back home and we came here today all amped up ready to play at 1:30 and we had to wait around,” Wanck said. “It was a lot for them to handle and we have to remember they’re just kids. We were proud of them. We got that out of the way and we’re ready to come back and play our normal ball.”
For the kids from Hollidaysburg, the tournament opener couldn’t have gone much better.
“It’s tremendous. The kids are smiling, having a good time and that’s what Little League baseball is all about,” McGough said. “To be able to get the first one out of the way and come out with a win against a good team, it’s a big start.”
Hollidaysburg was led by Tyler Steiner and Braden Hatch with two hits and three RBIs each. Mason Mierley had three hits and scored three times and Vince Boland had one hit and crossed the plate three times in the win.
Athens’ lone hit came from Duncan Thetga in the fourth inning. Kamdyn Wheeler, Thetga and Graham Wanck all reached on walks.
Connor Davidson, Wheeler and Wanck handled the pitching duties for Athens.
Hollidaysburg would use Hatch, Mierley, Boland and Ty McGough on the mound in the victory.
“Pitching and being able to go deep into pitching as well plays a major part in a lot of these playoff series, whether it’s districts, sectionals, states being able to have depth in pitching matters a lot,” McGough said.
Athens will play Valley West at 1:30 p.m. today in an elimination round contest. Hollidaysburg will face Greater Pittston in the winner’s bracket semifinals at 4 p.m.
Wanck believes his team will be ready to go and leave it all on the field today.
“We just told them to get a good night’s sleep, come back focused and if we’re going to go out, we’re going to go out playing our best. I’ve got full confidence that we’re going to do that,” Wanck said.