JOHNSTOWN - Part of being a successful baseball manager is the ability to accurately play hunches and use calculated risks to your team's advantage.
Philadelphia Bandits manager Mike Gossner was good on both counts Wednesday afternoon, and it paid off in his squad capturing a 5-3 victory over Altoona's Wise Trailer Sales entry in a third-round All-American Amateur Baseball Association National Tournament game at Roxbury Park.
After watching the Altoona team take an emotion-charged 2-1 win over tournament host Johnstown Martella's Pharmacy Tuesday night at Point Stadium, Gossner called an audible and decided to put left-handed starting pitcher Charlie Jerla on the mound Wednesday.
"We watched Altoona (Tuesday night), and that changed our thought process about the pitcher we were going to use today,'' Gossner said. "We thought that a lefty would give them a little more trouble today.''
He was right.
Jerla tossed seven-plus strong innings, striking out eight batters and walking just one, while allowing Altoona only one earned run and spacing seven hits.
His replacement, Tom Cockill, also a left-hander, earned the save by pitching two scoreless and hitless innings.
"We don't have a 1-2-3 (setup) in our pitching rotation,'' Gossner said. "We go by the way we feel about matchups.''
Those feelings were spot-on Wednesday, as Jerla struck out Altoona slugger Jextin Pugh with the bases loaded to end a scoring threat in the seventh inning, and Cockill got Brian Laurito to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to stifle an eighth-inning Altoona scoring chance and sent Philadelphia into a winners-bracket game today against Chicago Metro, which defeated Johnstown's other entry, Laurel Auto Group, 9-8 on Wednesday.
Altoona faces Laurel Auto Group in a losers-bracket elimination game at noon today at Point Stadium.
"Both of our pitchers worked out of some jams, and their pitchers did, too,'' Gossner said. "We knew that Altoona wasn't going to go away today.''
Pugh had crushed a solo homer to deep right field off Jerla in the fourth inning, making Gossner's hunch to have Jerla intentionally walk first baseman Christian Helsel to load the bases for Pugh with two outs in the seventh inning a leap of faith.
Jerla made the decision pay off by rearing back for something extra on a fast ball to strike out Pugh swinging, shutting down an inning in which Altoona had already scored one run with the benefit of three Philadelphia errors to move to within 5-3.
"We took a gamble there,'' Gossner said. "Their first baseman (Pugh) is the real deal, but we had an idea how we wanted to pitch him there, and our pitcher executed the pitch.''
Pugh felt that the Altoona team lacked an edge Wednesday after grinding out a 2-1 victory over archrival Martella's Pharmacy of Johnstown Tuesday night.
"We weren't being as aggressive (Wednesday) as we usually are,'' Pugh said. "It's all about having fun here, and I don't think too many people on our team were having fun today.''
Altoona opened the scoring with an unearned run off Jerla in the top of the first inning. Jordan Faretta reached base after being hit by a pitch, went to second on Helsel's book-rule double that hopped over the right field fence, and scored on an error.
Philadelphia answered quickly with two unearned runs in the bottom of the first inning off Altoona starting pitcher Trentin Martin. An Altoona error extended the inning for first baseman Steve Wells, who doubled down the left field line to produce the pair of runs.
Pugh's mammoth homer down the right field line tied the score, 2-2 in the top of the fourth inning, but Philadelphia bunched three hits in the bottom of the fifth to score three times and take the lead for good, 5-2.
Right fielder Joe Santospago's two-run double to the gap in right-center off reliever Cam Kyle highlighted the inning for Philadelphia.
"It was a fast ball, and I tried to keep my weight back and hit it to the opposite field,'' said Santospago, whose brother John, the Philadelphia catcher, had driven in the Bandits' first run earlier in the inning with an RBI single.
Altoona left eight runners on base, including a total of five in the seventh and eighth innings combined.
"Give the Philly kids credit,'' Altoona manger Rick Westover said. "I thought our pitchers did well, but we didn't hit today. We have to play better baseball (to succeed) in this tournament.''
Thursday's game could begin the road back in the double-elimination tourney for Altoona.
"We've got good kids on this team,'' Westover said. "We're going to be back, and we're going to be much more focused.''
Game note: A Philadelphia player required medical attention at an area hospital after being hit by part of a broken bat that had split into pieces while a teammate was flying out in the first inning. Gossner had no condition report on the player at game's end.
ALTOONA (3): Runk cf 500, Faretta 3b 411, C. Helsel 1b 301, Pugh dh 412, J. Stern 2b 401, I. Stern rf 401, Treaster c 200, Laurito c 210, Stover ss 400, Herncane lf 200, Swope lf 201, Martin p 000, Kyle p 000, Heane p 000. Totals - 36-3-7.
PHILADELPHIA (5): Gallo cf 522, John Santospago c 512, Tomei lf 400, Birkhead ph 101, Garrett pr 000, Plunkett lf 000, Joe Santospago rf 413, Wells 1b 402, Monahan 3b 400, Fleming dh 402, Conwell 2b 100, Cuoci ss 210, Jerla p 000, Cockill p 000. Totals - 34-5-12.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Altoona100 100 100-3 7 2
Philadelphia200 300 X-5 12 6
E-C. Helsel, Stover, Monahan 4, Cuoci, Jerla. 2B-C. Helsel, Pugh, John Santospago, Joe Santospago, Birkhead, Wells. HR-Pugh. RBI-Joe Santospago 2, Wells 2, John Santospago, Pugh 2. SAC-Conwell. SB-Pugh, Joe Santospago. HBP-Conwell by Martin; Faretta by Jerla. CS-Conwell (Treaster to J. Stern). LOB-Altoona 8, Philadelphia 12. DP - Altoona turned one, Philadelphia turned two.
Altoona: Martin (LP) 4IP, 6H, 5R, 3ER, 2BB, 0 SO; Kyle 1+IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 2BB, 0 SO; Heane 3IP, 5H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 0SO.
Philadelphia: Jerla (WP), 7+iP, 7H, 3R, 1ER, 1BB, 8SO; Cockill (SV), 2IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 1SO.
Umpires: Wes Meyers (plate); Todd Freidhoff (first base); Seth Matthews (third base).