MILL HALL - The ball rolled slowly through the Mill Hall Community Park infield.
Brad Walker charged hard from third base, bare-handed the ball and made an amazing running throw on a line to first baseman Luke Wise for the out.
"That's a big-league play with the bare-handed bunt. We were in the dugout, and all you heard from our guys was 'Wow,'" Huntingdon manager Brian Pelka said.
Central Mountain’s Von Walker slides past the tag of Huntingdon catcher Mackenzie Long for the go-ahead run in Mill Hall yesterday. The Wildcats beat Huntingdon 3-1.
Couple that play with outstanding catches by Von Walker and Alec Quiggle on back-to-back ropes in the fifth, and CM was on its way toward another win.
Brad Walker pushed home the game-winning run on a sacrifice squeeze in the bottom of the sixth, and Ryan Hill added insurance on a double steal as the Wildcats clinched a playoff spot with a 3-1 victory over Huntingdon yesterday.
The win was CM's 10th of the season - assuring it of a .500 season, thus clinching a district Quad-A playoff berth.
Credit this win to pitching and defense.
Making his first start of the season, Justin Hummel was sensational - tossing a three-hitter with two strikeouts.
When Hummel walked the first two batters of the seventh, manager Mike Kramer wasted no time, switching to Phil Holter - who retired three straight for his first save of 2012.
"You always wonder when someone walks to the mound for the first start of the year," Kramer said. "Justin has been a team player all year, and I knew this was his moment to start. He throws strikes, and that's what we asked him to do. We knew the defense would play strong behind him.
"Von didn't have a chance to warm up between innings, and I didn't want him to enter in that kind of situation with a cold arm. Phil had the chance to warm up, and he's done a good job all year."
Hummel admits there were nerves.
It's only natural.
"Once I got into things, I wasn't too bad," he said. "I didn't think I would make it as long as I did, truthfully. But the defense was really behind me."
Yes, they were.
The fifth started out as a trouble-spot.
Jordan Weller singled to right field to lead the frame off. Nate Shope followed by drilling a pitch toward the left-center gap. Von Walker came out of nowhere, seemingly running into Mill Hall Borough to snare down the hot shot. On the very next play, Tanner Cook lofted what looked like a Texas-League single to the short part of left field, but Quiggle jumped forward and made an outstanding play.
"When I saw those balls hit hard out there, it made my heart drop a little bit," Hummel said. "I was nervous, but they were able to track those two balls down. I couldn't ask anything more from my teammates. That helped me to calm down a lot."
Pelka's heart sank, along with the Bearcats.
"Those were big factors in this game. Take your hat off to them. Two great plays," he said. "I told the guys that this was like a heavyweight slugfest and we went toe-to-toe with a top-notched program. Central Mountain made three incredible web gems that was the difference in this game. I'm proud of our guys. Our record doesn't reflect it, but I still believe we can make a push to get into districts."
Central Mountain (10-4) broke a 1-all tie in the sixth.
Von Walker drew a four-pitch walk from Scott Alleman, and later took second on a wild pitch. He advanced to third on Ryan Hill's bunt single when Alleman fielded the ball cleanly, but no one covered the first-base bag. That set up Brad Walker, who pushed the sacrifice bunt toward first and Von Walker beat Alleman's throw to the dish.
One short push bunt, and CM was back in control.
Hill later scored on a double steal when the catcher tried to pick off Brad Walker swiping second base, allowing the catcher to stroll home.
Alleman threw a nice game, tossing a six-hitter with five strikeouts.
"Their pitcher had us baffled at times," Kramer said. "He was throwing a curve that we didn't pick up in time. We had guys taking third strikes, and that isn't like our team. Normally, we are battling away and putting the ball in play. Alleman did a nice job of keeping us at bay."
Luke Wise was the only player with multiple hits, going 2-for-3.
Central Mountain is back in action Friday, traveling to Tyrone.
Mountain League Baseball
CENTRAL MOUNTAIN 3,
H001 000 0 - 1 3 1
C010 002 x - 3 6 2
H: Scott Alleman and MacKenzie Long. CM: Justin Hummel, Phil Holter (7) and Ryan Hill. WP - Hummel. LP - Alleman. S - Holter. MH: CM, Luke Wise 2. Record: CM 10-4, H 5-10.