By Michael Boytim
Quitting games has plagued Altoona for much of the past two seasons.
The Mountain Lions have held the lead in most of their games, but a bad inning has often caught up with them, leaving them on the wrong side of the scoreboard until recently.
Aidan Steinbugl had Altoona headed in the right direction in Friday’s Curve Classic quarterfinals at PNG Field when he came on to ease starting pitcher Evan Alwine to escape a jam and then doubled on top of the seventh to set a two- Run to start the rally that led to a 6-4 victory for the Mountain Lions over previously undefeated Selinsgrove.
“I think I’m better off being relieved.” Steinbugl said. “I don’t throw my hardest, but I throw punches and that’s what we need for this team. I was struggling but I knew I had to get through for my team when I came here.”
Steinbugl’s one-out double came from Ryan Reich – Selinsgrove’s third pitcher of the day. He scored a pitch later when Lucas Muffie made an error, and Erik Rhodes drove Muffie home a batter later with an insurance run on an RBI single.
“I knew I had to do something big to get on base after they leveled the game.” Steinbugl said. “I saw a second pitch fastball and was able to drive it.”
Selinsgrove went 2-0 early with two unearned runs, but Altoona took a three-run lead in the fifth inning after Muffie’s double, 3-2.
“There’s a reason he’s ranked #3.” said Altoona coach Tom Smith. “He’s a solid hitter but again the guys in front of him loaded the bases. It started with guy #9 (Sam Saylor) who hasn’t been swinging the bat much this year and is starting a single before Muff delivers and we need #1 through #9 to do their part. ”
Muffie made it 4-2 after a failed pickoff attempt before Selinsgrove scored single runs at the bottom of the fifth and sixth goals to level the game.
Teague Hoover made five straight outs for Selinsgrove but came out after throwing just 19 pitches past the top of the sixth inning.
“We have a league game on Monday, that’s really important,” said Selinsgrove coach Brent Beiler. “We’re trying to get our pitching to work properly and I’ve got two guys leaving that can’t stay in Altoona. Teague Hoover was dominant, and Ryan Reich, who came in at the end, usually is too. I wasn’t afraid to go to him, but Hoover was definitely on it. We just couldn’t lose them for the next game. We have three solid pitchers, but four games in four days can get you.”
Late inning exploits were a welcome change for Altoona.
“We definitely had trouble finishing games early in the season,” Steinbugl said. “We’ve been up there in every single game we’ve played. Our losses, we ended up having a bad inning in the fifth, sixth or seventh, but we’ve finished strong lately. We want to continue that.”
Matt Moyer, Steinbugl and Muffie had two hits each and combined for five runs at the top of the lineup.
“I’ve told these guys I’m so proud of them.” said Smith. “Even though we would have lost late in that game, I was still proud of how they fought. (Selinsgrove) has three studs they can run out there and they pitched all three. We still hit the ball really well and made two huge runs in the seventh inning.”
Altoona will play Tyrone, last year’s Curve Classic champion, in the semifinals at 12:30 on Saturday. The winner of this game plays either Northern Bedford or Central for the title half an hour after this game.
“We think we’re developing into a really good team,” said Smith. “We find ways to finish games and we didn’t do that at the start of the season.”
ALTOONA (6): Moyer 3b 312, Steinbugl ss-p 422, Muffie rf 422, Rhodes cf 401, Hileman lf 300, Alwine p 000, Friewald 2b 000, Riccio dh 401, Bettwy c 300, Weyandt 2b 100, Blough 2b- ss 200, Saylor 1b 311. Totals — 31-6-9.
SELINSGROVE (4): Teats rf 400, Steimling c 410, Hoover ss-p-ss 422, Swineford p-3b 401, Domaracki cf 402, Richter lf 413, Shaffer 2b 000, Gephart dh 200, Reich 3b-ss-p 201 , Anders cr-ph 000, Gearhart 1b 100. Total — 29-4-9.
RESULT BY ININGS
Altoona ……………………..000 040 2 — 6 9 2
Selinsgrove ………………. 002 011 0 — 4 9 2
E-Weyandt, Bettwy, Hoover, Swineford. 2B–Muffie, Steinbugl. 3B judge. RBI – Muffie 3, Rhodes, Hoover, Swineford, Domaracki, Anders.
Altoona: Alwine – 5 1/3IP, 7H, 6K, 1BB, 2HBP, 4R, 2ER, 80 pitches. Steinbugl (W) — 1 2/3IP, 2H, 1K, 0BB, 0R, 0ER, 23 pitches.
Selinsgrove: Swineford – 4 1/3IP, 7H, 5K, 1BB, 1HBP, 4R, 4ER, 72 pitches. Hoover – 1 2/3IP, 0H, 3K, 0BB, 0R, 0ER, 19 pitches. Realm (L) – 1 IP, 2H, 3K, 0BB, 2R, 1ER, 18 pitches.
Referee: Matt Cursio (plate); Bill Wolf (Bases).
Records: Selinsgrove (10-1); Altona (6-4).