As first baseman Jason Stroup clutched the ball and recorded the final out, pitcher Sadiq Burkholder tossed his glove high into the night sky. Seconds later, players sprinted at him from all directions as he found himself at the bottom of a joyous dog pile. Former players and longtime fans had long dreamed of such a moment but that is all it remained.
But at that exact moment, 9:54 p.m., Friday, May 31, what once seemed an impossible dream had become reality.
Hughesville is the new District 4 Class AA champion.
Hughesville pitcher Sadiq Burkholder chats with catcher Brett Reitz and third baseman Christian Fish during a timeout Friday at Bowman Field vs. Loyalsock.
Burkholder threw a five-hit complete-game while Stroup and Zach Fry provided ninth-inning RBI hits as Hughesville edged Loyalsock, 7-5 in nine innings in one of the most exciting finals in District 4 history while capturing its first district championship at Bowman Field.
"I can't even put it into words. It's unreal," said Burkholder, who threw 164 pitches and struck out 14. "Winning with these guys and this team means so much. It's one of the most exciting games I've ever played in. It's a great game to win."
Making history rarely is easy and winning that elusive championship was no different. The Spartans (17-7) captured the title as a No. 7 seed, won four district games and beat South Williamsport and Loyalsock teams that had swept them during the regular season.
It seemed fitting then that Hughesville would have to go extra against top-seeded and defending champion Loyalsock and that is what happened after the Lancers (18-3) made a stunning rally, scoring four runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie it 5-5. Hughesville had seen this script before but wrote a new act and opened a new era.
"Loyalsock always has had our number in past years. It's just so awesome to finally beat them and to know we're hanging that first banner in Hughesville history for baseball," Stroup said. "We've made lots of history the last few days so might as well chalk it up and keep making history."
Hughesville will try and do that Monday back at Bowman Field when it meets District 3 runner-up Kutztown. Loyalsock, which had won four of the past five district crowns, also qualified for states and will play District 2 champion Lakeland at Scranton High School. Hughesville is state tournament-bound for the first time, earning that honor Thursday while also breaking the program record for wins.
A championship that seemed a near lock as Burkholder dominated Loyalsock for six innings, though, looked like it was slipping away in the seventh when Luke Glavin hit a RBI single, Kyle Datres belted a RBI double and Robbie Klein drew a bases-loaded walk. Burkholder recorded the second out via his 11th strikeout but Datres stunned Hughesville - and just everyone at Bowman Field - making a mad dash from third to home when Burkholder turned his back and took a few steps off the mound. Datres scored easily to tie it and Loyalsock had the winning run at second base.
"Datres is one of the smartest players in the state and that was just a great move by him. They have lots of athletes and coach (Jeremy Eck) is doing a great job with that team and they'll bounce back," said Hughesville coach Casey Waller, who led Loyalsock to three district titles from 2005-09. "Our guys hung in there and battled back and found a way to get it done and I'm so proud of them getting that first district championship for Hughesville."
Instead of buckling, Burkholder, who appeared distraught after Datres scored, came back strong and ended the rally with a strikeout. Two innings later, his teammates gave him a shot to close out this dramatic game.
"I knew I had the whole team behind me," Burkholder said. "They wouldn't let me down and I wouldn't let them down and we had to go out and do it as a team."
Justin Lambert helped Hughesville take that big step toward history when he led off the ninth inning with a double off the left-center field wall. One batter later, Stroup looped a 1-0 pitch into right field, scoring Lambert and giving Hughesville a 6-5 lead.
Zach Fry made it 7-5 a pitch later, driving a double and scoring Stroup. Stroup is a senior who has come up big throughout the playoffs while Fry is a freshman who went 3 for 4, giving him five hits in two games. Young or experienced it does not matter. Everyone on this championship team is delivering and that includes playing an error-less game.
"It's insane. It's such a great feeling," Fry said. "It's like this is how God wanted it to happen. We really had to come back and fight. He really wanted us to earn this win and we did."
Burkholder threw 27 pitches to close out Southern Columbia in Thursday's semifinals but was feeling good in the hot weather. Add in coaches probably having to pry the ball from him with a wrench and there was no way the senior left-hander would come out.
Burkholder faced the top of Loyalsock's lineup in the bottom of the ninth and was at 152 pitches. He made it look easy, though. The pitcher who has won seven straight games recorded his 14th strikeout for the final out before inducing Robbie Klein into hitting an inning-ending grounder to Lambert at second.
A party decades in the making erupted a split second later.
"Everyone is contributing and everyone is finding a way to make key plays for us," Waller said. "We've had so many different guys step up. It's a great moment and I don't think it has really set in yet.
Hughesville never trailed and opened a 3-1 lead when pinch-hitter Knevin Gouldner hit a two-run single. Sean Poust (4 stolen bases) stole home two innings later before Burkholder crushed a mammoth home run in the fifth inning, making it 5-1. That lead looked insurmountable as Burkholder repeatedly mowed through Loyalsock's lineup for six innings, taking a three-hitter into the seventh.
Coming back from near devastation, Hughesville remained unfazed and won a game that its players, coaches and fans will never forget. Afterward, players and coaches took pictures of the Bowman Field scoreboard. More championship teams might come but the photos tell the story.
This team always will be the first. This team showed dreams can come true.
Hughesville120 110 002-7 11 0
Loyalsock 100 000 400-5 5 3
Sadiq Burkholder and Brett Reitz. Ethan Moore, Roger Wilson (3), Robbie Klein (4), Luke Glavin (9) and Bailey Young, Evan Moore (6). W-Burkholder, (7-2). L-Klein, (2-1)
Top Hughesville hitters: Burkholder 1-5, HR, RBI; Zach Fry 3-4, 2B, RBI, R; Justin Lambert 2-4, 2B RBI, R; Sean Poust 1-4, R, 4 SBs; Knevin Gouldner 1-1, 2 RBI. Top Loyalsock hitters: Datres 2-5, 2 2Bs, RBI, 2 R; Jimmy Webb 1-4, 2B, RBI; Luke Glavin 2-4, RBI, R.
Records: Hughesville 17-7. Loyalsock 18-3.