STOVERSTOWN - Jared Stiffler appeared headed for an early exit in Game 3 of the Central Baseball League Playoff Championship Series.
The Stoverstown right-hander gave up six runs and seven hits in the first two innings, and when he took the mound in the third inning, his chance to pitch a complete game seemed to be a long shot - at best.
That's exactly what Stiffler did, though, performing an amazing turnaround by not allowing a run, or a hit, over the next five innings.
Stiffler's teammates, meanwhile, supported him with their gloves and bats.
The Tigers made just one error on the day, and they used back-to-back three-run innings, the third and fourth, to wipe out a 6-1 deficit.
Stoverstown's 7-6 victory
"We were down 6-1, and our heads should have been out of the game, but we have the drive to come back," Stiffler said. "I can't do it without them (his teammates). We had excellent defense, and they hit a lot of good balls for me."
Stiffler left his pitches up in the strike zone in the opening two innings, and Jefferson's hitters responded by ripping him for five singles and two doubles.
"The first two innings, I wasn't hitting my corners, and they're a good fastball-hitting team," Stiffler said. "I had to hit the corners because if you throw it right over the plate, they're going to hit it somewhere in the gap. I had to adjust my mentality on what I wanted to do. After that, my curveball, slider and changeup, I was able to locate them."
After Stiffler yielded three runs in the top of the first inning, Zach Schuler got a run back for Stoverstown in the bottom of the first when he crushed a 2-2 fastball over the fence in left-center field just to the left of the 373 sign.
Jefferson increased its advantage with three more runs in the second, but that was the last time
Stiffler did get into some trouble in the seventh inning when the Titans put runners on first and second with one out. Stoverstown shortstop Kurt Krout made a nice running catch in foul ground for the second out, and the Tigers' pitcher got the next hitter on hard comebacker to the mound to end the game.
"It was a combination of nerves and a little fatigue settling in (in the seventh)," Stiffler said. "Kyle (Wildasin) also saw me rushing my mechanics, and he told me to slow down and do the same things I was doing the last four innings."
Stiffler took Wildasin's advice.
The Tigers' first baseman also played a key role in the bottom of the fourth inning when his team scored
Schuler drew a one-out walk to ignite the rally, and Krout reached on an error. Wildasin then slammed a two-run double to the left-center field gap to tie the game. Following a strikeout for the second out, J.W. Besore stroked what turned out to be the game-winning hit, a single to left field to score Wildasin.
Besore also drilled a double down the left-field line in the second inning.
"I actually picked up the ball pretty well out of his (Jefferson pitcher Brian Bossom) hand," Besore said. "I was fortunate. He got two pitches up in the zone, and I was able to put good wood on them. Kyle's hit was huge because it gave (Austin) Botts and I a chance to get him (Wildasin) in with one out."
Besore said winning the playoffs allowed the Tigers to take another step toward their ultimate goal.
"We set out our goals at the beginning of the year, and we have two out of four. (The Tigers also are aiming to capture the York County Championship Series and the Tom Kerrigan Colonial York Tournament). It's big (sweeping the regular-season and playoffs), but we're still going to keep grinding it out," Besore said. "That's the mentality of this team."
Stoverstown manager Tim Thoman said Sunday's triumph epitomized the current group of Tigers.
"Our defense made the plays, and our bats woke up again and battled back," he said. "That's been our story all year. Every night, it's someone different. That's what's nice about this ballclub."
Thoman showed his confidence in Stiffler by allowing him to stay in and display the form that earned him a 7-2 record and 2.25 earned-run average in the regular season.
"Jared struggled early, but I figured he would work it out, and he did," Thoman said. "Jefferson gave us a run for our money. It was a good series."
The Tigers will now prepare for their next series against Conrads, which earned its 21st Susquehanna League regular-season crown this year.
"I saw them twice, and they're a good-hitting ballclub," Thoman said. "If our pitchers do the job and throw strikes, our defense is solid. I think it will be a good series."
Besore, Schuler and Adam Delauter collected two hits apiece for Stoverstown in the Central League finale. Scott Trail delivered two hits and two RBIs for Jefferson.
Bossom was the hard-luck losing pitcher. Just one of the seven runs he allowed was earned. The Titans were charged with three errors, giving them 11 for the three games.
- Reach Dick VanOlinda at firstname.lastname@example.org.