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Bobcats prowl past weak Lions offense, 8-2

| Friday, April 20, 2012

United has been a team in search of offense all season, and that search continued Wednesday as the Lions fell to the Blairsville Bobcats at WyoTech Field.

The Bobcats (5-3) used an offensive onslaught and aggressive base running to cruise past the Lions, 8-2, in a Heritage Conference matchup. The Lions (1-7, 1-6 in the conference) now have been outscored 34-6 in their last three games.

In the first inning of Wednesday's game, with Blairsville third baseman Reed Ratkus at first base, right-fielder Bobby Thompson ripped a single through the middle of the infield to put runners on first and second. Two batters later, second baseman Cameron Livingston crushed a two-run RBI double to deep right field and almost scored three runs, but Scott Thompson -- brother of Bobby -- was thrown out while trying to steal home. The Bobcats were up 2-0 early in the game.

Blairsville got another run in the third inning when Scott Thompson belted an RBI single past the third base line to score brother Bobby, who lined a single to center then got into scoring position when he stole second base on a passed ball.

The Bobcats continued their offensive attack in the fourth. Shortstop John Distefano led off with a double belted to center field. Starting center-fielder Andrew Iezzi reached first when he hit a chopper through the legs of United shortstop Cody Trabert and gradually advanced to third on two stolen bases. After Ratkus walked and eventually stole second, Distefano scored from third on a United throwing error.

Iezzi stole home after testing the arm of the Lions' second baseman Garrett Vindish, who caught a pop-up from Scott Thompson in the infield with the bases loaded that put the infield fly rule in effect. Iezzi took off from third base as soon as the ball was caught and just slid underneath the tag from United's starting catcher, Dom Chero. It was now a 5-0 Blairsville lead.

Blairsville head coach Mark Zerfoss was pleased with his teams' offensive production, something the team was lacking in its 7-2 loss to Northern Cambria Monday.

"United had a decent team. We knew we had to come and play good baseball," said Zerfoss. "We've been watching too many third strikes. Our goal and our mentality was to come and go up there and swing the bat. We got off to a slow start but things picked up."

In addition, the Bobcats took advantage of every United fielding error, wild pitch or passed ball.

"I don't think it's a secret that we try to be aggressive on the bases," Zerfoss said. "Whether it's stealing or trying to get an extra base, we're going to be aggressive, and it's going to take good throws to get us out."

The Lions continued to struggle offensively. They were hitting the ball hard but, unfortunately, right at the Blairsville defenders.

The Bobcats chalked up three more runs in the fifth inning with starting pitcher Nick Halmes adding a big two-run RBI single through the infield. Two batters later, Ratkus belted an RBI double to deep center-field to make it an 8-0 Blairsville lead.

Leading the way on offense for the Bobcats was Livingston, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, two stolen bases and a run scored. Ratkus and Bobby Thompson each went 2-for-4 as each had two stolen bases.

The United offense finally got going in the sixth inning when first baseman Adam Magalich led off with a walk. Then Vindish lined a single past the third base line, and starting pitcher Tayler Sheriff ripped a two-run RBI single to left field that scored Magalich and Vindish.

Sheriff led the way on offense for United as he went 1-for-3 with two RBIs. He also pitched five innings, struck out one and walked seven batters.

United head coach Greg Mytrysak knows his team has been battling and working hard, but the Lions have not seen a payoff on the scoreboard to this point. Still, the coach was happy with the effort his players put forth Wednesday.

"We kept battling, and that's what I've asked the kids -- just to keep battling," Mytrysak said. But, "It's been the same, we play it well, we play it well, we bend or we blink. We've been consistently doing that."

The Bobcats defense, particularly the infield defense, held up the United offense.

"For the most part, we were pretty solid," Zerfoss said. "Our middle infielders played well, they played a solid defensive game. We almost got a couple of double plays and we had a few errors. But, overall, we were pretty solid defensively."

Halmes pitched six innings, struck out three and walked two. Iezzi, in relief, pitched a scoreless 1-2-3 seventh inning and struck out the first two batters he faced.

"I was actually going to pull Nick before (the sixth inning) but he was throwing pretty well," Zerfoss said. "I thought he was tiring down, his pitch count was getting up. I definitely wanted to get Iezzi some work on the mound because he threw some for us last year and hasn't seen the mound this year. So I definitely wanted to get him some work today."

Although Chero struggled some behind the plate with the passed balls, Mytrysak still was pleased with his performance.

"He's really playing out of position and he's helping us out," Mytrysak said. "He gives us everything he's got, so no complaints there. He does a fine job."

Next up for Blairsville is a road game tonight against Ligonier Valley, a team the Bobcats lost to, 11-10, in the first game of the season.

"That's one of the games that you keep in the back of your mind," Zerfoss said of the earlier LV matchup. "We didn't play the ball that we're capable of playing. We probably had five errors that game, and we gave them a lot of runs."

The Lions are looking to break out offensively and get back in the win column when they travel to take on Purchase Line tonight.

"They're (PL) struggling the way we're struggling," Mytrysak said of the Red Dragons. "It will probably be a pretty good game."

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