STATE COLLEGE - Seconds after Johnsonburg recorded the final out Friday, a sea of red Canton fans stood and applauded their team.
Minutes after that final out was recorded and Canton collected its state runner-up trophy, many players smiled and enjoyed the moment. Canton did not live the ultimate dream yesterday, but its fans, players and coaches realized it had been quite a storybook season.
Cole Peterson threw a three-hit shutout and Johnsonburg scored five sixth-inning runs as it blanked Canton, 5-0 and captured its first Class A state championship.
The Warriors finished 23-3, winning the program's first district championship and reaching states for the first time.
"All we wanted to do this year was win districts because that would be the first time Canton has ever done it before so just to make it this far is amazing," said Canton second baseman Trevor Route after going 2 for 2. "I don't know how we made it this far to be honest, but it was a great run."
"The school had never even won a district title and here we are in the state championship," first baseman Connor Route said after going 1 for 3. "It sucks to lose but it's amazing to come further than any other Canton team."
Canton made it that far by receiving outstanding pitching, playing terrific defense and receiving balanced hitting from all nine offensive starters. Not much changed against Johnsonburg on the first two fronts as starter Garrett Wesneski threw five shutout innings and took a no-hitter into the fourth inning while the defense played an error-less game.
The problem was putting pressure on Johnsonburg (19-3). Route's fourth-inning leadoff single was the last Canton hit and its only hit over the final 6 2/3 innings as Peterson, who improved to 10-0, struck out six and threw only 92 pitches.
For Peterson and five other players, Friday's win was especially sweet after they lost in the Class A basketball final last March.
"It's an amazing feeling. We made it in basketball and had that bad taste in our mouth," Peterson said. "When we made it back here we brought that back up. We said we want gold this time."
Johnsonburg earned it by putting six straight hitters on base, five via hits with one out in the sixth inning. Locked in a scoreless pitchers' duel, the Rams knew one run might be enough to win but did a whole lot better as the first five that reached base all scored.
After Cameron Grumley walked and Mitchell Holmberg (2 for 3) singled, Taylor Feronti delivered the hit of his life. Feronti broke his ribs during the basketball season and missed that team's state final run but erased all frustration with one swing, driving an RBI single into center field and giving Johnsonburg a 1-0 lead that looked even bigger the way Peterson was throwing.
"We just had to get one run and we knew it was our game," Feronti said. "I was thinking step into it and rip into one. I looked in the stands at my dad and took a deep breath and I took it up the middle. It's unbelievable. I still can't believe we won the state title."
Quinn Luhr followed with a perfectly executed suicide squeeze to make it 2-0 before Feronti scored on a wild pitch. Kyle Sheldon's two-run single capped the rally and made it 5-0.
Chase Pepper walked and reached second for Canton in the seventh but Peterson induced a game-ending groundout as Johnsonburg made history.
"Taylor got a base hit and it opened it up for us," Peterson said. "Luhr dropped down that squeeze and it made everyone go crazy and we kept piling on."
Canton had its best chance at scoring in the fourth inning when Route hit that leadoff single, Wesneski walked and Josiah Bardo was hit by a pitch. Wes Moore hit a hard liner with two outs but Luhr made that catch at second base and Canton did not deliver another hit.
Wesneski was brilliant for five innings, giving Canton a chance to win the game. The junior (10-1) allowed only two hits through five innings and struck out five while retiring the first seven batters he faced. Wesneski left a runner stranded at third in the fourth with one out and a runner on second with no outs in the second inning.
Each out Wesneski recorded elicited a big response from a Canton crowd that dwarfed that of both Class AAA finalists in the next game. That following told the story of how big this run was and how much it meant to Canton.
Winning the state title would have been a bonus, but the Warriors did not need that trophy to validate themselves as champions.
"This is incredible," Canton coach Bob Rockwell said. "The stands are loaded with red. The community has been tremendous in all this. Everybody has been stepping up and doing whatever they can to help us. It's been a great run."
Canton shattered the program record for wins, won five straight postseason games and became the second straight District 4 Class A team to reach the state final. All pitchers and seven starters return next season so 2014 could be another great year.
"It's always disappointing to lose, especially in the state championship, but we just try to look at the bright side. Look how far we've come throughout this whole season and how much fun we had," senior Emett Watson said. "We won districts and everyone was all happy, but we kind of knew in the back of our minds that we could do more. So we celebrated, but we had our minds on the state championship.
"We finally got here and it's been an experience we'll never forget."
Canton000 000 0-0 3 0
Johnsonburg000 005 x-5 6 1
Garrett Wesneski, John Bowman (6) and Travis Butcher. Cole Peterson and Frank Kocjanic. W-Peterson, (10-0). L-Wesneski, (10-1).
Top Canton hitters: Trevor Route 2-2, BB; Connor Route 1-3. Top Johnsonburg hitters: Mitchell Holmberg 2-3, 2B, R; Taylor Feronti 1-3, RBI; Quinn Luhr 1-3, RBI; Kyle Sheldon 1-3, 2 RBI.
Records: Johnsonburg 19-3. Canton 23-3.