Defensive gem helps Peccole preserve victory
GARDNERVILLE — See, those pregame drills do pay off every now and then.
Just ask Justin Mettelka, whose brilliant running catch of a long fly ball in the bottom of the seventh inning helped Peccole nail down a 6-5 victory against Las Vegas rival Central in the state Junior League (13-14 year olds) tournament championship game on Wednesday afternoon at Lampe Park.
With two runs already across in the inning, nobody on base and one out, Central No. 5 hitter Ryan Keplinger lifted a high fly ball deep into the left-center field gap. Mettelka got a good jump and ran the ball down to make the catch going away from the infield for the momentum-breaking second out of the inning.
“I just saw the ball and went running,” Mettelka said. “It was all the Touchdown Tommy’s we do before every game. We have a drill where we run from first base toward the outfield fence and the coaches throw a long ball for us to catch.”
Moments later, pitcher Chuckie Howard rang up a strikeout to end the game and give Peccole Junior League its second straight state championship. Mettelka and Howard, who will be freshmen together at Sierra Vista High School this coming year, were also teammates on that 2001 state Junior League championship squad.
“That was the best catch I’ve ever seen,” said Howard, who pitched four innings of near flawless relief to earn credit for the win. “I guess we had to make it interesting.”
The finish was interesting. When Central pushed the tournament to a final game with an 8-4 win on Tuesday, Peccole faced a dilemma because its entire coaching staff had to be back at work in Las Vegas the next day. As a result, the team was coached by parents in Wednesday’s final.
Then Central picked up momentum with a three-run rally in the third inning to take a 3-1 lead. Keplinger hit a 3-0 pitch down the third base line to drive two runs home and give Central its lead.
Central threatened again in the fourth when Austin Roehr hit a leadoff triple, but that’s when Howard came on to pitch in relief of starter Kyle Gutchewsky. Howard went the rest of the way, allowing just the two runs in the seventh and two hits, to go with seven strikeouts and three walks.
Peccole took the lead for good with three runs in the fifth, aided by three errors. Austin Hunt scored on the tail end of a double steal to tie the score. Chase Comrie drove in Joe Benoit with the go-ahead run on a sacrifice bunt and Howard followed with an RBI single.
Howard hit 9-for-15 (.600) in four tournament games.
Peccole added one more run in the top of the seventh inning when Mettelka came home on an error at home to make it 6-3.
The extra run would prove important. Erik Simpson walked to lead off Central’s last-ditch rally. Jordan Butterfield singled and both runs scored on wild pitches to cut Peccole’s lead to 6-5.
Andrew Pluta and Josh Creveling combined to pitch six-hit ball for Central, which was hindered defensively by eight errors.
The champions return to Las Vegas to begin play in the divisional tournament beginning on Saturday. Peccole’s team reached the finals last year before losing by one run to New Mexico.
PECCOLE 6, CENTRAL 5
Peccole 100 130 1 — 6 6 1
Central 003 000 2 — 5 8 8
Gutchewsky, Howard (4) and Ladeira; Pluta, Creveling (5) and Padron.
Peccole hitting: Gutchewsky 1×4, 2B; Mettelka 1×4; Haberkorn 1×3, 2B, 1 RBI; Howard 1×3, 1 RBI; Taylor 1×4; Benoit 1×2.
Central hitting: Stack 2×4; Butterfield 2×3; Keplinger 2×3, 2 RBI; Roehr 1×3, 3B; Padron 1×2.