Philipsburg-Osceola’s Josh Earnest didn’t want to call Friday afternoon’s performance the best of his career — but it wasn’t far off.
The pitcher couldn’t stop grinning after a complete-game, 7-0 win over West Shamokin in the first round of the District 6 Class 3A tournament. He tossed a season-high 10 strikeouts, walked none and at one point retired 12 straight batters.
Oh, and he finished with a game-high three hits at the plate — finishing just a home run short of the cycle.
“This isn’t the best game I’ve had numbers-wise,” he said after the game, clutching his gaudy plastic MVP necklace. “But, against this type of competition, this is probably top 3.”
Said West Shamokin coach Dave Powers: “He’s as good, if not better, than anyone we’ve seen this season.”
The No. 4-seed Mounties will next take on top-seeded Central in the district semifinals at 4 p.m. Monday in Martinsburg.
That game will come hours after Earnest parades around school with the fake-gold, plastic-diamond dollar-sign necklace, a token that P-O awards after every game to celebrate its MVP. The recipient is always forced to wear it the next school day and, Earnest said, “You always get a lot of looks.”
P-O coach Doug Sankey knew the necklace was heading Earnest’s way before the end of the sixth frame. “After his third hit,” Sankey said, “I thought, well, he’s probably got it tonight.”
Not only did Earnest locate his knuckle-curve early, causing numerous Wolves batters to shake their heads while heading back to the dugout, but he sparked the P-O offense as well. In the first inning, with two outs, Earnest sent a screaming grounder past West Shamokin’s second baseman to drive in the Mounties’ first run.
With the way Earnest pitched, it turned out that was all the Mounties needed.
“I’d say this is his best game I’ve ever seen him throw,” said teammate Gage Coudriet, who finished with two RBIs on a single and triple. “He was just pounding the zone, hitting his spots. It was just his day.”
By the end of the third frame, when he had already collected six strikeouts, P-O led 5-0 and boasted all the momentum. From there, the Mounties cruised.
Sankey acknowledged, howeverr, the game could’ve unfolded a lot differently if not for a key play by Earnest in the opening frame.
Earnest didn’t settle in immediately, allowing back-to-back hits after a leadoff out. So, with one out and two men on, Earnest found himself in a precarious position — especially after starting out with a 3-1 count against the cleanup batter. Another ball would’ve loaded the bases with one out. But Earnest said he took a few deep breaths, focused on simply throwing strikes, and got the batter to pop out. Earnest retired 11 straight batters after that.
“That’s the key to the game right there,” Sankey said. “After that, he settled in, and he was pretty tough.”
Earnest finished with three hits as a batter; as a pitcher, he allowed just three hits. His teammates crowded around him after his triple to high-five him and pat him on the back. And, after the game, one fan playfully referred to him as Cy Young.
P-O wasn’t perfect Friday. It stranded 13 runners and committed an error. But it was difficult to find fault with Earnest, and it was even harder to argue this team wasn’t full of confidence heading into Monday’s District 6 semifinals.
“This is going to help us a lot,” Earnest added. “It’s going to give us more momentum — and confidence — going in.”