Philipsburg beats Howard to force Game 5 in County League semifinals

Phillipsburg pitcher Gage Cadnet sends the ball to home plate during the game against the Howard Hawks at Howard Elementary School on Sunday, July 24, 2016.
Phillipsburg pitcher Gage Cadnet sends the ball to home plate during the game against the Howard Hawks at Howard Elementary School on Sunday, July 24, 2016.

With just nine players available the last two games, Philipsburg’s Spike Island Pirates have found a way to survive in the Centre County Baseball League playoffs.

The Pirates faced elimination after forfeiting the second game of their best-of-five semifinal series against Howard.

They bounced back to edge the Hawks in Game 3 and earned a 12-7 win over Howard on Sunday to force a Game 5.

“In the last two games, guys were playing out of position,” Philipsburg’s Brandon Quay said. “You pretty much ask a guy, ‘Are you OK with playing third or are you OK with playing first?’ It’s just wherever you’re more comfortable, and that’s how it’s been the last two games and thankfully we just hit the ball and everything worked out.”

Philipsburg pounded out 13 hits and scored six runs in the fourth inning to pull away for the win. The teams will finish their series at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Philipsburg.

Quay and Snoop Earnest each had three hits to pace the offensive outburst.

Philipsburg starting pitcher Isaac Knepp allowed four runs and six hits in three innings to earn the win.

Howard came into the day confident with Ty Womer on the mound.

But the Pirates got to him in the first inning.

Philipsburg recorded four straight one-out singles, taking a 1-0 lead on Josh Potter’s single through the left side of the infield. A throwing error brought in another run before Aaron Mason lined an RBI single to left field for the fifth and final hit of the inning.

“When you have nine guys, it’s weird, you’re either going to come in and everything’s going to go good, or it could not,” Quay said. “And whenever (you have) a first inning like that, it gets your guys spirits up.”

The Pirates had to rally in the series after their forfeit.

They didn’t have enough players — five were on vacation — for the second game. Quay said Gage Coudriet returned from vacation Sunday to give the Pirates their ninth player.

When Coudriet took over on the mound in the bottom of the fourth, the Pirates led 11-4.

The Pirates pushed their lead to 5-0 with two runs in the second inning. After Howard pulled within 5-4, Philipsburg broke it open with six runs in the top of the fourth.

“Philipsburg came out swinging the bats, so they decided they were coming to win this ballgame today and they executed,” Howard assistant coach Jim Gardner said.

With a runner on first and no outs in the inning, Earnest sent a ground ball to second baseman Gage Gardner. Howard shortstop Brandon Gettig dropped the throw to second as he tried to turn the double play.

Jim Gardner thought Gettig got the out and dropped it on the exchange, arguing the call with the umpires. But Shaw was ruled safe at second, bringing Quay to the plate.

With runners on first and second, Quay laid down a sacrifice bunt.

It got through the right side of the infield to allow Shaw to score and start the six-run inning.

“All of the sudden, they got another big inning,” Jim Gardner said. “That was a huge turning point because we had started to grab some momentum back and started to score some runs.”

Howard couldn’t overcome the seven-run deficit.

And after falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Pirates will play one more elimination game for a spot in the championship series against the Clarence Mounties.

“We kind of feel like we have momentum,” Quay said, “and we hope that we can just ride it right into the final game.”

Ryne Gery: 814-231-4679, @rgery