STOVERSTOWN — Manchester pitcher Michael Houseal would have had Sunday off had things gone to plan on Saturday.
But with Stoverstown winning Game 1 in the best-of-3 Central League playoff series 10-2, Houseal was on the mound when his team visited the Tigers in a must-win Game 2 for the Indians Sunday.
The Lebanon Valley College standout was everything that his team needed in its biggest game of the season. He allowed just one unearned run on five hits over seven innings. That proved to be enough as the visitors scored a pair of unearned runs in the first inning that Houseal made stand in a 2-1 triumph.
The victory evened the series at 1-1 with a decisive Game 3 to be played Tuesday night at Manchester.
"We were going to save Michael if we won the game Saturday for Game 3 if we had to go to that," Manchester manager Dave Miller said. "But we can't save him for a game that he might throw so we had to use him today."
The right-hander breezed through the first four innings, allowing just a pair of harmless singles to Nick Spangler and Daryl Harang along the way. He only struck out one batter through the first four innings, but was able to get quick outs when he needed them.
"Michael throws strikes," Miller said. "So everybody is ready defensively. We have a lot of confidence when Mike's throwing."
The smooth ride didn't last throughout. Houseal hit some bumps in the fifth and sixth innings. Stoverstown loaded the bases in the fifth with a chance to cut into a 2-0 deficit at that point. But the LVC star was able to get a ground out to second to escape unharmed.
He wasn't as lucky in the sixth when he again found himself with the bases loaded. This time with just one out — the result of Zach Schuler getting caught stealing second after a single to begin the inning — Houseal loaded the bases before he hit Jessen Bishard in the shoulder to force in a run.
That brought Harang, who smashed the ball hard his first two times up (lineout to first, single to right), up in a pivotal moment. Houseal, however, was able to get left-handed swinging first baseman to pop out to short on the first pitch he saw. He then stuck out Kurt Krout to again walk of the mound with the lead intact.
"I only threw two off-speed pitches through the first couple of innings," said Houseal, whose sinking fastballs resulted in eight ground-ball outs through four. "So I had to start mixing it up. And in the seventh inning, and the last of the sixth, that started helping me out."
The Indians, who managed but two runs in losing Saturday's contest, equaled that output before ending the first inning against Stoverstown starter Jordan Lehman. Dan Royer reached on a throwing error with one out and moved to third when Logan Allison's single to left was misplayed, allowing Allison to move to second with just one out.
After retiring Josh Reeser on a grounder to short that scored Royer, Austin Allison ripped a double to the gap in left-center that plated Logan Allison to make it 2-0.
"We've been playing good defense all year," Stoverstown manager Tim Thoman said. "We just had a mental lapse there and they took advantage of it."
Lehman, arguably the Tigers' most reliable starter all season, only surrendered two more hits after the first inning. His line Sunday — four hits allowed, one walk, one hit batter and three strikeouts — would almost always result in a victory.
But sometimes baseball is a funny game.
"I take the blame for this," Thoman said. "I took a chance (with Schuler stealing) and it didn't work out. But I have to tip my cap to Michael Houseal. He threw a heck of a game."
Austin Allison finished with a pair of doubles to lead the Indians offensively. No Stoverstown batter was able to get more than one hit off Houseal, who surrendered just one extra base hit — a ground-rule double to catcher Austin Botts in the sixth.
OTHER CENTRAL LEAGUE GAME
Shiloh 2, Jefferson 1: At Jefferson, Jacob Molison's eighth-inning home run capped off a road win for Shiloh to help it even the best-of-3 series against Jefferson. Jefferson looked to have a chance to tie it in the bottom half of the eighth, after Kurt Seiders laced a one-out triple. However, after protest, it was ruled that he missed second base, causing him to be called out. Colin Porter drove in the only run of the game for Jefferson, a double in the bottom of the third to tie the game at 1-1. Kaden Hepler earned the win, going all eight innings, allowing four hits, one walk and striking out seven. Brian Bossom took the loss for Jefferson, also throwing a complete game, allowing the two runs on nine hits and striking out four. Game 3 will be on Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. at Shiloh.