KINGSTON – Swoyersville was in clear command for eight innings Saturday but still had work to do at the end to lock up a 2-1 victory over Milton in the opening round of the Pennsylvania Region 5 Senior American Legion baseball tournament at Spartan Stadium.
The same outlook is true of the season as a whole for the unbeaten Wyoming Valley League champions.
Swoyersville is 21-0, but still needs at least three wins over the next four days if it wants to advance to the state tournament.
“Eight teams come in here,” Swoyersville manager Sean Toole said. “Stats mean nothing. Records mean nothing. It pretty much all gets determined on the field.”
“You saw it here, you dominate a game for eight innings and you see how quick the tides can turn.”
Milton managed just three base runners against Swoyersville lefty Matt Zielen through eight innings and only one of them reached second base.
Swoyersville advanced seven runners to third base and three more to second during that time.
“You can see happens when you don’t execute with guys on third base and less than two outs,” Toole said. “We definitely kept them in the game a little bit.”
After playing seven-inning games all season, Legion switches to nine innings for the regional tournaments on the Senior level.
The ninth inning proved to be the toughest for Zielen and his defense.
Milton scored its only run and advanced the tying runner to third before Zielen closed out his four-hitter.
With Swoyersville playing for the first time in two weeks after clinching the regional berth with its regular-season league title, Zielen started strong. He retired the first nine, including five strikeouts.
“All three of my pitches were working today,” said Zielen, who mixed his fastball, curveball and changeup to strike out six and walk one. “From that layoff, that’s kind of surprising.
“I felt like all three were on today.”
Zielen led Swoyersville into today’s winners’ bracket semifinal. It will return to Spartan Stadium to face Mansfield/Wellsboro, an 8-1 winner over West Scranton.
Joe Pechulis produced much of the offense. He was 4-for-4 with a double and drove in the first run.
Mike Leonard was hit by a pitch to start the game. He stole second and scored on the first Pechulis hit.
Pechulis blasted his double to center field and got the ball through the left side three times for singles.
“They might not have been the most powerful, but I’ll take them,” Pechulis said.
After Pechulis was thrown out at the plate in the fourth inning, Swoyersville scored what proved to be the winning run.
With runners at first and third with two outs, Jeremy Worlinsky intentionally got hung up between first and second on a stolen base attempt.
Evan McCue broke for home. Milton second baseman Michael Jacobs chased and tagged Worlinsky as McCue arrived home. The home plate umpire ruled that McCue made it to the plate before the out was recorded.
“It was a banger at the plate,” Milton manager David Byers said. “In my eyes, he didn’t make it. In their eyes, he did.”
Daniel Bridge led the Milton offense. He had two of the four hits, including a double for the only extra-base hit, and scored the only run.