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 Wednesday, August 10, 1994




East Texas goes 1-up in Tri-County championship series

Of The Morning Call

The good news for Silver Creek after a 5-4 loss to East Texas last night in Game 1 of the Tri-County League Championship Series is that at least the Raiders don't have to worry about blowing another two games to none lead.

Last year, Silver Creek dropped three straight games to Gilbertsville in the best-of-five title series after grabbing a 2-0 lead.

East Texas removed the problem of history repeating itself last night in Springtown behind the combined four-hit pitching of Josh Gunkle and Tim Brader and a big offensive night by Mike Merkle.

Now, the Longhorns can bid for a 2-0 series stranglehold when they host Silver Creek in Game 2 at 5:45 tonight in East Texas.

"Maybe this is the spot we should be in," said Silver Creek player- manager Steve Smull. "This might be the wakeup call we need. We were flat. When we read about Gilbertsville getting knocked off, we might have encountered a letdown situation. Maybe some of the guys started looking past East Texas and that's a big mistake. "They have a lot of good pitchers over there and when you Tim Brader in the bullpen, you better have a lead after five innings."

Silver Creek never had any lead last night as East Texas jumped on top in the first inning.

Merkle, a Kutztown High product, followed Ted Young's walk with a triple to right-center to make it 1-0.

The Longhorns extended the margin to 3-0 in the third when Matt Moore, a terror at the plate and on the bases these days, singled, was sacrificed to second, stole third and strolled home when the catcher's throw went into left field. Merkle, who walked, scored on George Horn's double to the gap in right-center.

Merkle then struck again in the fifth, following another Young walk with a long home run over the fence in left to make it 5-0.

At the time, the two-run shot appeared to be mere icing on the cake. It later proved to be the whole cake.

"I just love fastballs," the 22-year-old Merkle said of the two- run shot. "He just got one up where I like it. You get pretty pitches every so often and that was one."

Meanwhile, East Texas starter Gunkle was working on a no-hitter through four innings. But he lost the no-hitter, the shutout, his job and nearly the lead in the fifth.

A sharp single to left by Joe Cuvo started a four-run rally that resulted in Brader coming into the mound from his position in right field. The former Detroit Tigers' prospect delivered a pro performance, retiring eight of the nine hitters he faced and to preserve the one-run edge.

"I only pitched seven innings all year," said Brader, who got four of his eight outs via strikeouts. "Our starting pitchers have been doing well and they didn't need me. I had a sore shoulder most of the year and this is the first day I really felt good. My fastball was working. I still like coming into the game late and protecting a lead. It's a challenge to me."

Merkle, who finished his night with two extra-base hits, two runs scored and three RBI, knew Silver Creek would pose a challenge, even down 5-0.

"We knew they were going to come back; we just didn't know when," Merkle said. "They came into this game 28-4. You don't get to be 28- 4 without a reason."

But the Longhorns, playing in the Tri-Co finals for the first time in team history, showed why they were the Tri-Co's North Division champs and are now owners of an impressive 24-9 mark themselves.

Last night, they were missing two starters -- Hassan DeJesus and Clayton Fitch -- who are Allentown City playground instructors and had to attend Romper Day ceremonies.

Yet, the Longhorns roped themselves a critical win, thanks to veteran fill-ins Mike Witkowski and Jeff Duke as well as the big bat of Merkle.

"We don't have nine guys, we have 24," Merkle said. "We have a number of guys who can come through. Tonight, it was my turn. Maybe tomorrow it will be someone else's turn."

Smull, meanwhile, hopes it will be his Raiders' turn to get big hits. Other than a clutch two-run double by his brother Matt, Smull's sluggers were silent at crunch time.

"We just have to come back hard in Game 2 ... that's a big one for us," Smull said. "We'll come back with Jason Young, who is 11-0. And they'll come back with a good pitcher, too, in Dan Hayes. The pitching is going to be good all series. At 5-4, this one may be the highest scoring game of the series. We just can't dig ourselves another big hole."


From The Morning Call -- August 10, 1994

Copyright 1994, The Morning Call