Fighting their way through the Federation League season and winning the first two games of the best-of-seven finals series against Brookville by a combined score of 14-1, the DuBois Rockets hit a bump in the road at Showers Field on Wednesday night.
Hunter Geer, the Grays’ 19-year-old right-hander who graduated from the Brookville Raiders this spring, handed them a 3-0 shutout loss in an eight-inning game.
Geer threw a four-batter on his 122-pitch outing, striking out six and walking three. The hit of the game came from Tanner LaBenne’s two-out single in the top of the eighth that turned into a two-goal error and a two-run play when the ball went under the glove of right fielder Dan Stauffer and rolled to the warning track.
The Grays cut the Rockets’ series advantage to 2-1 heading into tonight’s Game 4 at McKinley Field at 6 p.m.
While the momentum didn’t quite swing the other way, it did at least stall a bit as Geer and Grays ended some impressive streaks.
– Geer is the first Fed Leaguer to shut out the Rockets since June 30, 2019 when future Rocket Braden Blair of the Pulaski Generals handed the Rockets a 4-0 loss. Wednesday ended an 86-game streak for the Rockets not to be ruled out.
–The Grays finished the Rockets’ perfect season at 20-1 and their 22-game winning streak dating back to their third loss to Rossiter in last year’s Finals.
– The Grays snapped a 14-game losing streak against the Rockets since last beating DuBois in the 2019 semifinals en route to the title.
“I just wanted to beat them once. They hadn’t been beaten all year. I know the whole team pretty well and play with them at school,” said LaBenne, who is a teammate of many Rockets at Penn State DuBois.
LaBenne got his chance thanks to a two-out Grays work against TJ Gornati in the top of the eighth. Gornati had the Grays’ No. 1 and No. 2 hitters Geer and Joey Lopez run over. Dillon Wolbert scored a sharp left and Nathan Bonfardine continued play when he was hit by a pitch.
Then it was LaBenne’s turn.
“I struggled through all sets with runners and was just trying to find some ground to hit.” said LaBenne. “(Gornati) missed low with something out of speed and then there was a 1-0 count. He threw a heater and I pulled him through the right side and he went under the glove (of Stauffer).
Stauffer was charging hard to try and get Wolbert out at home plate, but was too aggressive and never got the chance. LaBenne took third, then raced home when Bryce Rafferty picked him. Owen Caylor picked Rafferty in third to chase Gornati in favor of Josh Sorbera who took out last.
“You get to the top of the eighth, TJ comes out of a seven-pitch inning and you feel good and you get the first two outs and you feel confident,” Rockets manager Jeff Gasbarre said. “We have men on base, we can win the ball game down there. But LaBenne had a big hit, Danny was ready to shoot and it squealed near him. This game is in play and he was trying to make the play and he rushed.
The Rockets had their top in the bottom of the eighth and instead of maybe needing to just scratch one run, they needed three and it didn’t happen. Geer outed Garrett Brown with one out, but got two straight takeouts on LaBenne, who had a rare start at third base due to a makeshift lineup of bodies available, to end the game.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to shut them out, but I felt like I could contain them as best I could and with Nort (Bonfardine) behind the plate we work well together and we’ve gotten back together,” Ger said. . “We were trying to mix it all up and give them a good dose of off-speed, but not overdoing it.”
Geer threw 79 strikes and first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 31 batters he faced.
“The game plan from the start was obviously to push them back,” Bonfardine said. “They’re going to sit on fastballs and push them into the gap. Hunter’s coin was dirty tonight. We started with a lot of first pitch curveballs and it was effective because they were looking for fastballs.
“He allowed four hits for a team that hasn’t lost all season, so that’s a hell of a job and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
The Rockets got back-to-back singles from Brown and Stauffer with one out in the first inning, but Geer forced two steals to get out of the inning. The Rockets grounded runners at first and third in the second after Matt Zimmerman walked and Luke Salvo picked to start things off.
Stauffer picked and stole the second with one out in the third, but after that Geer had no significant threat from there as he only faced one on the minimum in the 5 2 Last /3 innings as the Rockets went 0 for 16 the rest of the way.
Geer knocked out Sorbera, who was hit by a two-out pitch in the seventh, with Morgan at the plate and finished the inning, helping to set up the eighth-inning rally.
“Tip our cap to (Hunter). He made us lose our balance all day,” said Gasbarre. “We haven’t had that many popups in a game all year. Blaise (Roush) had a lot of work there in right field. We had a lot of popups, strikeouts in the big spots We had runners early in the game, but there were no threats late in the game.You have to tip your cap.
The Grays had three hits against the Rockets’ Gornati in seven innings, a two-out single by Wolbert in the first inning, a single by LaBenne in the fourth and a single by Geer in the fifth. The Grays blocked six runners in seven innings before finally cashing in.
“Hats off to TJ too,” Bonfardine said. “He held us back and did an amazing job locating his three locations on his side as well.”
Gornati threw 109, striking out three and walking two, allowing six total hits, two each to Wolbert and LaBenne.
Hunter Geer p 4010, Joey Lopez cf 4000, Dillon Wolbert ss 3120, Nathan Bonfardine c 1100, Tanner LaBenne 3b 4121, Bryce Rafferty 1b 4011, Owen Caylor 2b 4011, Blaise Roush rf 4000, Cole LaBenne lf 3000. Totals: 31-3 -7-2.
Thayne Morgan cf 4000, Garrett Brown 2b 3010, Dan Stauffer rf 4020, Sean Sleigh 1b 4000, Zane Morgan lf 3000, Matt Zimmerman dh-2b 2000, TJ Gornati p 0000, Luke Salvo c 2010, Morgan Bell ss 3000, Josh Sorbera 3b -p 2000. Totals: 27-0-4-0.
Errors: Rocket 2, Grays 0. LOB: Grays 8, Rockets 7. SAC: Bonfardine. SB: Stauffer. HBP: Bonfardine (by Gornati), Sorbera (by Geer).
Grey: Geer 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 SO, 3 BB.
Rockets: Gornati 7 2/3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 SO, 2 BB; Sorbera 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 SO, 0 BB.
Winning pitcher: Geer. Losing pitcher: Gornati.