Centre County League baseball: Philipsburg Pirates win championship amid controversy, absent Howard Hawks

CDT photo

Philipsburg pitcher Josh Potter needed just one pitch to earn the win for the Pirates in Sunday’s Centre County Baseball League championship game against Howard.

He stepped up to the mound, and hurled. Straight down the middle. Game over. One pitch, and it wasn’t even against a batter.

There was nobody at the plate to hit his pitch, because there were no Howard Hawks in attendance.

Pirates manager Drew Bryan said there had been rumors that the Hawks would not show up to the third game in a five-game series.

“We were really hoping they were just rumors,” he said. “We were hoping they would show up and play game three, it would’ve been a legendary matchup of Potter versus Brian Pelka, two local greats in the area. We had multiple people come from out of town, out of county, to come see that.”

The decision to boycott presumably stemmed from controversy. There was a rule infraction by Philipsburg in the first game of the series Tuesday, after a player who was not on the playoff roster pitched for the Pirates. Philipsburg’s 13-1 win was then forfeited to Howard.

The Pirates found out that their win was forfeited just before playing in the second game of the series. They went on to win the game, 4-1, and Bryan and his team decided to appeal the original ruling behind the reasoning that Howard did not notify league president Rob Gavlock of the infraction within 24 hours. Gavlock overturned his original decision, and released the following statement on Friday:

“P-O appealed the league ruling of a forfeit of game one. The league reviewed everything until late last night, and also today. What was found in the bylaws, is that the rule infraction did happen. However, the game must be played under protest, and league president must be notified within 24 hours after the game for this infraction, for a forfeit win to be awarded. This did not happen. Keeping in accordance with the rules of the league, the league has no other recourse but to reverse its decision and P-O has won the appeal. The score of game one stands, with P-O as the winner.”

Bryan said his team was happy to “see the process work as it should,” and that the roster infraction was an “honest mistake.” He said the player in question had pitched for Philipsburg on at least one occasion this season.

With the series 2-0 in favor of Philipsburg, the Pirates readied themselves to host Sunday’s matchup.

“I showed up to the field and saw they weren’t there yet,” said Bryan. “I talked to the umpires for awhile … then it got to around three o’clock and they weren’t there yet.”

Bryan said he took his batters out of the cages and the team played infield-outfield for a bit, to give the waiting crowd of about 100 people “something, at least.”

The 30-minute time limit approached, and Bryan and his team broke it down like they normally would, despite the abnormal situation.

By rule, at least one pitch needed to be thrown. Potter stepped up, and less than a second later, the game was over. Philipsburg got the decades-old trophy, and lifted it high. Howard’s dugout sat empty in the background.

“We dogpiled, and we celebrated ... it was tough, though.” said Bryan. “It’s tough to end like that. There are a lot of questions facing the league, and a situation like this is not what the league needed.”

He’s referring to the Centre County Baseball League’s diminished pool. The organization, which has existed in rich tradition since 1946, has dwindled in just two seasons from 11 teams to six.

“This (incident) is probably worst-case scenario for the league,” said Bryan. “Something like this … it’s not what this league needs. It needs to stay close-knit. It needs to stay together, because, honestly, who knows what the future will hold (for the league)?

“This is the type of controversy that can break apart a league and create two sides on an opinion.”

Bryan said a part of him honestly wishes he wouldn’t have appealed the decision, if it meant he’d feel more satisfied with the ultimate outcome as a player and a person.

“If I could go back in time and say, ‘Okay, 1-1’, then heck, I would’ve loved to see this matchup,” he said. “This matchup was great for the league … we’re happy to say we’re champions, but this is not how we wanted to win.”

Bryan said he understood Gavlock was “in a really tough spot” and under a lot of pressure to make the right decision, however, and he can’t argue with the ruling.

He also said Howard’s decision was theirs to make, and it wasn’t for him to comment on it.

“They thought it was the right call for them [Howard],” he said.

Gavlock had no comment on the situation and Howard personnel and players could not be reached for comment.