Before Monday’s first pitch, Philipsburg-Osceola baseball coach Doug Sankey heard whispers in the dugout.
Dom Masullo was taking the hill for Bellefonte — and the Mounties remembered how 2015’s meeting went. In a 10-run thrashing, Masullo shut down P-O with a two-hitter this time last season.
When he caught wind of the chatter, Sankey talked to his team.
“Just try to work good at-bats, even if you get out, try to work the count, and get his pitch count up,” Sankey told his players.
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They heard him loud and clear.
Despite a hot start from Masullo, the Mounties were patient and broke through for a run here and a few there, overtaking Bellefonte 5-1 at Don Womer Field.
Masullo, who tossed seven innings and struck out 10, took the loss, while P-O’s Josh Earnest was the winning pitcher. Earnest threw his third complete game of the season, recording only two strikeouts but scattering six hits and inducing 10 groundball outs.
P-O (10-3) passed last year’s mark of nine victories as Bellefonte (5-9) lost just its second game in its last six outings.
Masullo, set to pitch at Morehead State after the season, showed off his college-bound heat early. The first time through P-O’s lineup, Masullo struck out five and didn’t allow a hit.
But as Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel noted, the second time through a lineup gets tougher for a pitcher.
“The hitters just get a little more comfortable,” the Red Raiders coach said.
The Mounties followed suit, settling in.
After Masullo struck out P-O’s No. 9 hitter, Earnest did what a leadoff hitter should, getting on base with a single up the middle. He stole second base, and later scored the game’s first run on a liner to center by Derek Shaw.
Shaw’s hit gave the Mounties some confidence.
“Derek with that big hit, we’re thinking, ‘OK, we can at least put the bat on it,’” Sankey said.
Masullo didn’t let up, striking out five more before his outing was over.
But his pitch count started to climb.
Through four innings, he was at 70 pitches, and in the fifth frame, his control started to waver. Earnest was hit by a pitch, Shaw singled, and Logan Williamson drove them both home after facing an 0-2 count, ripping a pitch that caught far too much of the plate.
In the sixth, P-O plated two more after Masullo walked four in a row.
Fravel gave credit to the Mounties, who showed patience at the plate.
But he also felt that with the Red Raiders’ lack of offense, it put Masullo, who finished with 115 pitches, in an unfavorable situation.
“When you’re playing with an offense that isn’t scoring many runs, there’s hardly any margin for error,” Fravel said. “That’s the pressure our pitchers and defense are feeling. They’re feeling like they have to do everything perfectly.”
Meanwhile, Earnest, Shaw and the Mounties heeded Sankey’s pregame advice well, and it paid dividends.
Plus, it came at an opportune time. P-O has three more games this week — at Penns Valley on Tuesday, at home against Central on Thursday, and on the road at West Branch on Friday — and with seven games remaining in the regular season, the Mounties can position themselves well with the District 6 playoffs on the horizon.
Sankey said “10 wins is nice” but a district title is the goal.
When Earnest was asked about P-O’s current form, he responded simply.
“We’ve been doing well all year,” the sophomore said. “We just need to keep winning.”