The Philipsburg-Osceola baseball team had its share of ups and downs against Mountain League opponents this year.
One thing that is for certain is the play against the best from around Centre County and beyond aided head coach Doug Sankey’s squad when it opened play in the District 6 Class AA bracket on Thursday.
The No. 15 Mounties rode the left arm of pitcher Isaac Knepp and got some timely hitting to dispose of second-seeded Bishop McCort, 8-1, at Point Stadium in Johnstown.
P-O, which was 7-3 against teams its own size, will now face No. 10 seed Penn Cambria on Monday in a quarterfinal matchup.
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“It definitely helps and is something we stress,” said Mounties head coach Doug Sankey of his strength of schedule. “Before the brackets come out, we emphasized we took some lumps early in the year from some quality teams. We seemed to find our groove toward the middle of the season. We knew we’d be in for a tough game today for sure.”
P-O took advantage of two early Crimson Crusher errors, as the Mounties plated all the run support Knepp needed with a 2-run first inning.
Tanner Wilson and Derek Shaw each reached on an error with Logan Williamson following by drawing a 4-pitch walk to load the bases.
A Nick Beblar wild pitch allowed Wilson to score the first run, while Knepp helped his own cause with an RBI groundout.
Knepp then cruised along before allowing a two-out single in the sixth that allowed the lone McCort run to cross the plate.
“We put the pressure on them early by getting a couple of runs and that helped,” Sankey said. “We neutralized their run game and it gets kids thinking. I’ve been there as a higher seed and lost, so I know when you get down a little bit you start pressing.
“We had a left hander on the mound in Kneppy, and I think that made them stationary and go base-to-base.”
P-O added two more in the third and three more in the fifth to assume control of the game.
A two-run double from Mitch Winters was the breaking point for the Mounties, who chased Beblar in the fifth. Winters was 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts to his credit at that point and was down 0-2 in the count once more.
After fighting off a breaking pitch, Winters belted a towering double of the netting above the wall in left field.
Winters’ double ended Beblar’s time on the mound.
“He did that one other game,” said Sankey. “but (we say) the next at bat is always more important. We preach that to these guys and for him not to give up (was big). He hit a mistake, but he still had to hit it.”
Williamson also doubled off the netting in left, as he and Wilson ended the day with two hits apiece.
Knepp and Tanner Lamb also drove in a pair of runs for the Mounties, who improved to 9-11 on the season.
Wilson led all players with four runs scored from his spot atop the P-O lineup.
“He’s been our spark all year,” Sankey said of Wilson. “He’s been great all year and his on base percentage is fantastic. He puts a lot of pressure on guys. The top three hitters in our lineup have been carrying us, but we’ve been getting some other guys chipping in.”
Knepp faced more than four hitters in an inning just once and benefited from the double-play tandem of Williamson and Wilson in the middle on two occasions.
The Crushers left seven runners on base, including five in scoring position.
The win moved Knepp to 4-2 on the season. The Mountie southpaw scattered six hits and struck out three.
“(Knepp) threw a lot of groundballs,” said Sankey. “and Logan and Tanner up the middle were fantastic. Logan Williamson was like a wall over there at short, and Tanner made a couple of really nice plays up the middle. If we can get all our pitchers to throw groundballs … our infield couldn’t have played any better.
“We’re just excited to play. We didn’t make districts the last two years, so these guys are just excited. We’re battle tested — we’ve played six games in a week against quality opponents — and I couldn’t be more proud of the way they showed up today.”