DuBOIS - Two streaks were on the line for Franklin's baseball team on Thursday afternoon against Philipsburg-Osceola in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 3A playoffs at Showers Field.
First, coach Brian Schmidt's Knights were looking to extend a winning streak to an incredible 22 straight that dated back to April 3, and second, they were seeking to reach the semifinals of the state tournament for the first time in the storied history of the program.
Well, the Knights accomplished both feats as a three-run top of the fourth inning broke open a 2-2 game and lifted Franklin to a 6-3 victory over the Mountaineers and earned a berth in the PIAA semifinals against Mount Union, a 4-0 victor over Hopewell, on Monday at a site and time to be determined.
"It means a lot to the community," Schmidt said of his Knights reaching the semifinals for the first time. "These guys worked their tails off from day one. We had big goals in mind. We won District 10 and we weren't satisfied. The way we won against Freeport, we just carried that into this game. We just scrapped out a win any way we could, so I'm just proud of the guys."
After an intense finish that saw the Knights rally for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Freeport by a 3-2 score in the first round on Monday, this win came a little easier for Schmidt and his Knights.
Both teams went scoreless in the first frame, but the Knights struck first for a change by scoring solo runs in the top of the second and third innings to open up a 2-0 lead.
Kaden Keely led off the second with a double and, after a pair of groundouts, he was able to move over to third. Starting pitcher Kolton Banfi followed by coaxing a walk to put runners on the corners with two outs. Banfi then got caught in a rundown between first and second after P-O starter Bubba Slogosky threw a pickoff attempt to first base. However, Schmidt had a double steal in the works and Keely took off for home plate, sliding in safely as the throw sailed over the catcher's glove.
"That is a play we practice," Schmidt said. "It's just a fake to draw a pickoff attempt and get in a rundown, and it worked out the way we wanted it to."
Franklin struck again in the third without getting a single hit. Leadoff hitter Zach Taylor reached on an error and moved to second on Tyus Wood's sacrifice bunt. Connor Rakow, Austin Rhoads and Haynes each orchestrated walks with Haynes' free pass bringing in Taylor for the second run of the contest.
The Mountaineers, who finished the season at 16-9, quickly tied the game in the third with the help of a rare miscue by Franklin's defense. Nathan Gustkey started things off by coaxing a one-out walk and Keegan Soltis followed by drilling a shot to the wall in left-center. With Gustkey stopping at third, it looked like P-O would have runners at second and third and only one out. But, the relay throw was off the mark, allowing both runners to round the bases and come all the way home to knot the score at 2-2.
However, the Knights were unfazed and turned the momentum back in their favor with three runs in the top of the fourth to take the lead for good.
Banfi led off the inning and reached after getting hit by a pitch. Carson Wible then brought the Franklin fans to their feet with a triple to the gap in left-center that eluded the grasp of the diving centerfielder to give the Knights a 3-2 lead. After a groundout, Wood came through with a single to plate Wible with the second run of the inning. After a strikeout, a hit by a pitch, a walk and an error brought in Wood for a 5-2 advantage.
Banfi was also undetered by the two unearned runs in the third as he kept the Mountaineers off the scoreboard in the fourth, allowing only a single to Carson Jones to keep the Knights out in front and end his time on the mound. He earned the win after allowing the two unearned runs on five hits with two strikeouts and one walk.
"It was loud out there on the field and I think the guys had trouble hearing each other," Schmidt said of the Knights' miscue in the third inning. "But, they didn't let it get to them, especially Kolton. He knew the plan coming into the game was to get through the order a couple of times and keep them down. He made a mistake by giving Solits something to hit on a 2-0 pitch, but that next inning, to get those three outs, was huge."
Franklin added an insurance run in the fifth as Wible reached with an infield single and moved to second on a wild pitch. He than came around to score as the throw on Taylor's bunt single sailed over the first baseman's head.
Rakow came in to pitch the final three frames to earn the save, allowing an earned run in the sixth on two hits while striking out three and walking two.
Errors played a big role in the game as five miscues by the Mountaineers helped lead to four runs for the Knights. Franklin, meanwhile, made only the one error in the third.
"Our defense played solid up the middle," Schmidt said. "Tyus was as smooth as they come, Ian made some big plays and Kolton made a play at short that I think ended the inning and was a heck of a play from the hole. So, we definitely played well defensively."
Franklin finished with seven hits in the game as Wible led the way with three hits, including a triple and a double. Keely also cracked a double while Taylor, Wood and Rakow each added a single. The Knights, however, did strand 11 men on base.
"We left some guys on base for sure," Schmidt said. "I thought we could have broke it open a couple of times. But, credit to them. They made some pitches and they made some plays. Some of our guys in the bottom and top of our lineup are just trying to get the ball down and to get guys in motion and we did that today."