CARMICHAELS -- Carmichaels blew open a close game Thursday with seven runs in the bottom of the fourth inning as the Copperheads closed out their best-of-3 semifinal series against Bill's Bit Service with a 12-2 win in five innings.
Carmichaels (18-3) now seeks their fourth county baseball title in a row against either Mill Run or Mitch's Bail Bonds. Mill Run won the opening game of the series on Thursday after two rain postponements.
Bill's Bit Service closes the season at 9-11.
Chuck Gasti spotted the defending champions the early lead with a two-run double in the bottom of the first inning.
Bill's Bit Service starting pitcher Nick Groover pitched out of trouble in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded with a strikeout of Hunter Robinson.
Groover was not as fortunate in the bottom of the fourth inning, though. Carmichaels sent 12 batters to the plate and scored seven runs to pull out to a 9-0 lead.
Groover walked Luke Robinson and John Przybylinski to open the inning. Brody Bonadio popped up his sacrifice bunt attempt, but neither Groover and nor first baseman Ian Edenfield were able to make a play on the ball as Bonadio hustled out the play for a single.
Joby Lapkowicz singled home a run and Gasti followed with a sharp double to center field to drive in two more. Gasti was the offensive star of the game, going 3-for-3 with two RBI and three runs scored.
Groover managed to strike out Tyler Reyes looking, but an error on Joel Spishock's ground ball kept the rally alive. Godwin and Hunter Robinson both walked with the bases loaded and Luke Robinson ripped a two-run single as Groover gave way to Willie Palmer.
Palmer managed to get the final two outs to kill the rally.
Groover, who is also the manager, was reluctant to take himself out of the game.
"I pitched on short rest. I felt I was the best option. It didn't work out as planned," said Groover. "It started on ball four to (Przybylinsk). It should've been strike three. Then, it all started to unravel."
"I did not want to put someone else in that situation," Groover said of his decision to remain in the game. "I dug a hole and didn't want someone else to get out of it."
While the offense was putting up runs, Copperheads pitcher Joe Sabolak kept the visitors' bats quiet.
He allowed two baserunners in the top of the first inning, but one was erased attempting to advance on a passed ball. Sabolak retired the side in both the second and third innings.
Sabolak walked Zach Uhazie and Ian Edenfield with two outs in the top of the fourth inning, but closed out the threat with a fly ball to center field.
He carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, but that hope ended with Willie Palmer's infield hit to the left side of the diamond.
Lapkowicz made a stellar diving catch for the first out of the inning. Then, Darion Palmer broke up the shutout bid with a two-run home run to left field.
Darion Palmer hit a three-run homer in the first game, breaking up Lapkowicz's no-hit bid with two outs in the seventh inning.
The Carmichaels defense kept the visitors' rally alive with three errors, two fielding and one throwing, for runners at second and third. Sabolak settled down and got the next two batters to fly out.
"We started with a kid on the mound, Joe Sabolak. He's a rookie in this league. He was sharp in the first four innings. He was what we needed," praised Carmichaels manager Dickie Krause.
The Copperheads closed out the game, and the series, with three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to invoke the mercy rule.
Lapkowicz was safe on an error to open the inning, Gasti was hit by a pitch and Reyes walked. Spishock walked home a run for his third RBI of the game.
Godwin struck out for the first out. Brant Bonadio, batting for Hunter Robinson, hit a ground ball. The defense attempted to turn a double play instead of cutting the lead runner at home. The throw to get Bonadio was off the mark, allowing Reyes to score the final run.
As can be the case with rosters in flux, Bill's Bit Service was missing a couple key players.
"We're missing our Nos. 3 and 4 batters (Shane Roebuck and Caleb Dempsey)," said Groover. Roebuck belted the game-winning, three-run home run in Wednesday's 7-4 win.
Although the Copperheads stranded eight runners, Krause said his squad came through when it had opportunities to do so.
"After yesterday, we were busted up. We didn't hit at opportune times last night. That hurt us," said Krause. "That big inning (tonight) pulled us out."
Krause understands no matter who wins the other semifinal, the Copperheads will be facing a quality team.
"Mill Run has the good Legion players (from Connellsville) and Mitch's Bail Bonds has some good college kids," said Krause. "It'll be a good series."