Philipsburg didn’t lose a game during the Centre County Baseball League’s regular season. Howard limped into the postseason as the seventh seed among eight teams.
The Hawks proved those numbers didn’t matter in the playoffs.
Howard struck for seven runs early and held on to eliminate the defending league champions with a 10-7 triumph Sunday at Philipsburg High School. The Hawks will face perennial power Lemont in the best-of-five championship series, beginning Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. at Spring Creek Park.
Trailing 2-1 in the series against Philipsburg, the Hawks rallied to win the final two games to advance to the finals. Howard, 8-14 in the regular season, is the only team to beat Philipsburg this summer.
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Trailing 1-0 in the decisive Game 5, Howard erupted for seven runs against Josh Potter in the top of the third inning, sending 12 batters to the plate and scoring five times after two outs.
Rusty Gates singled and Brian Dyke walked to open the frame and Gates raced home to score on Scott Zuback’s RBI single. After a flyout and an RBI groundout from Travis Price, the Hawks strung together four consecutive hits.
Tyler Womer’s single drove in a run and Travis Fisher reached on a single. Dan Cole smacked an RBI single to make it 4-1. Kyle Womer then delivered the big blow, blasting a three-run homer to right-center field.
Philipsburg, 22-0 in the regular season, wouldn’t go away, scoring in three of its next four at-bats to slice the margin to 8-7 entering the seventh.
A.J. Czap had an RBI single and Chad Speigle smacked an RBI double as the Pirates cut the margin to 7-3 after three innings.
Cole’s sacrifice fly pushed the Hawks’ lead to 8-3, but Philipsburg took advantage of two errors to score three times in the bottom of the fourth. Two runs scored off an error and Czap had an RBI groundout before Brian Pelka got out of the innings.
Ryan Mostyn tripled and scored on Jon Shaffer’s sacrifice fly to cut the margin to 8-7 in the sixth, but Pelka stranded the potential tying run at second by getting Speigle, who was 2-for-3 to that point, on a grounder to shortstop.
The Hawks gave Pelka some insurance in the top of the seventh. With two outs, Zuback and Clay Smith stroked back-to-back singles and both raced around to score as Price belted a double in the left-center field gap.
Pelka allowed a two-out walk in the bottom of the seventh, but fanned Mostyn, who was a homer short of the cycle, to end the game.
Zuback, Smith, Tyler Womer and Fisher had two hits each for the Hawks, who belted 14 hits. Pelka, one of the league’s top winning pitchers of all-time, allowed 13 hits, walked three and struck out three.
Mostyn’s three hits led the Pirates, who had 13 hits. Matt McCamley, Shaffer, Czap and Speigle had two hits each.
Pelka said a possible reason for Sunday’s 17 runs and 27 hits was the he and Potter, two of the league’s dominating pitchers, had thrown earlier in the series.
“Once you face somebody for the second time, they can get you,” said Pelka, who is approaching 100 career wins. “They know your little tricks.
“It was a challenge to face these guys. They’re just a top-notch group of players and hitters. We’re just lucky to get out of here with a win and go to the finals.”
Howard, which eliminated second-seeded Lewistown in the quarterfinals. is making its first trip to the league finals since 2000 when the Hawks fell against the Ducks. Third-seeded Lemont had its string of seven consecutive titles snapped in the finals by Philipsburg last season. The Ducks have won 10 of the last 13 league crowns.