PUNXSUTAWNEY – It became clear early that Bishop McCort starting pitcher Matt Mosholder wasn’t going to see the end of the game.
The Crimson Crushers made sure his strong, workmanlike effort didn’t go to waste.
With Mosholder quickly approaching the 105-pitch limit, Bishop McCort plated four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning before the senior left-hander had to give way to a reliever, and the Crushers advanced to the PIAA Class A baseball semifinals with a 5-2 victory over District 9 champion Elk County Catholic at Rich Kuntz Field on Thursday.
Bishop McCort (17-7) will return to action on Monday against District 10 champ West Middlesex. That game will be at a site to be announced.
“Matt’s a heck of a pitcher. We didn’t get some of the calls we wanted, but he kept his composure, battled and did what we asked him to do all year,” said Crimson Crusher designated hitter Nick McGowen, whose double high off the screen in centerfield started off Bishop McCort’s game-changing rally.
The contest was even at 1 when McGowen doubled, and Hunter Leech and Jordan Page lined singles, the latter scoring McGowen with the go-ahead run.
Then Joe Staib pushed what was intended to be a sacrifice bunt to the right side. The ball got by both the pitcher and the second baseman, allowing Staib to reach base and courtesy runner Keegan Leis to score. When no one was covering second, Staib advanced into scoring position.
Staib scored Bishop McCort’s final run on Cameron Bunn’s sacrifice fly into foul territory in left. Page scored two batters earlier on a Cole Bradley groundout.
Bishop McCort only had six hits.
“We got a runner on base. That’s big. Anytime we get a runner on, it’s a big thing,” Staib said with a huge grin. “And that bunt, I don’t know, I hit it hard. I don’t even know if it was a bunt. It was more of a half-swing. Then no one was paying attention, so I just ran.”
All the runs took what must have felt like a mountain of weight off Mosholder’s shoulders. Although he was pitching well – he struck out eight – he also was pitching a lot.
Mosholder threw 42 pitches in the second inning alone, despite not allowing a run, because Elk County Catholic fouled off 14 two-strike offerings and drew two walk.
However, he managed to settle down, not just making it through four innings to qualify for the win, but also finishing the fifth before reaching his limit and being taken out in favor of Sam Newcomer, having surrendered just one run.
“It was tough. They were battling the whole game, and they were fouling pitches off left and right. I just tried to keep my composure the best that I could and keep throwing strikes,” Mosholder said. “I was pretty nervous until we got those runs. It was huge. It gave us a lot of confidence.”
Elk County Catholic (16-9) scored a run in the six and got the tying run to the plate in the top of the seventh before Newcomer got Crusader designated hitter Dan Wimer to ground out to third.
“We wanted to work the count. We wanted to get (Mosholder) out of the game. That strategy worked. Unfortunately, we had a couple of baserunning errors that I wasn’t too pleased about,” said Crusaders coach James Slay, whose team had a runner thrown out at third base in the first inning and one called out trying to advance to second in the third.
“It’s really disappointing to lose the game, because I really do believe we had a shot at playing (in the state final).”
Bishop McCort is no stranger to nip-and-tuck games this season; the Crushers are 9-4 in games decided by two runs or fewer.
“We’re used to tight games. It gives us more confidence. It helps us make the better plays when we’re in a tough situation,” Staib said.
The Crimson Crushers struck first when Leis, courtesy running, crossed the plate standing up after Crusader right-hander Hunter Cashmer’s 2-1 offering bounced past catcher Brennen Klawuhn in the bottom of the second.
Leis had stolen second and reached third on a wild pitch with two down.
Elk County Catholic drew even in the next half-inning on Dan Wimer’s line single to center to score Alex Wehler with two outs.
Elk County Catholic looked to have something going in the top of the first.
Tyler Herzing drew a leadoff walk. Will Uberti followed by lashing a single to right field.
The relay throw, though, nailed Herzing trying to get to third, and Mosholder struck out the next two Crusaders.
Bishop McCort threatened in the bottom of the opening frame, when Zach Ramach looped a two-out single and stole second before Cashmer caught Crimson Crusher cleanup hitter Brendon Bair looking.
This will be Bishop McCort’s fifth foray into the PIAA semifinals in eight years. The Crimson Crushers have reached the state championship game in two of the previous three seasons.
“We believe in one another. The coaching staff trusts these kids, and they trust us,” Bishop McCort coach Chris Pfeil said. “All it takes is for one guy to give us a spark.”