Experience paid off for Burkholder in title game
All he could do was put his hands on his head and stare toward home in disbelief. He seemed to be living a nightmare in front of nearly 1,000 fans, and there was nowhere to run or hide.
While nearly everyone at Bowman Field was stunned when Kyle Datres stole home and tied Friday’s District 4 Class AA championship, no one was more shocked than Hughesville pitcher Sadiq Burkholder. The senior had dominated Loyalsock for six innings but had just watched the last remains of a four-run lead vanish in a cloud of batter’s-box dirt.
“I can’t even tell you the sinking feeling when he stole home,” first baseman Jason Stroup said.
Burkholder can. Worse yet, the winning runs were on first and second, Loyalsock’s RBI leader was at the plate and Burkholder’s pitch count had soared into the 130s. Somehow, Burkholder kept his composure and came back with a vengeance, ending the inning with a strikeout and forcing extra innings.
Despite throwing a career-high 164 pitches, Burkholder did not allow another hit and Hughesville rallied for two ninth-inning runs as it dethroned Loyalsock, 7-5, and captured its first District 4 Class AA championship. Burkholder (7-2) has shown all year how talented he is. Friday, he proved how strong he is.
“It’s just experience. I’ve been in big games before,” Burkholder said. “I was freaking out a lot after giving up four but the team helped me a lot. They picked me up a lot and it was a solid team win.”
“He just kept getting stronger and stronger. He could have thrown 200 I think,” designated hitter Zach Fry said after going 3 for 4. “Once that (game-tying steal) happened I said, ‘he will come back. He’s tough.'”
Burkholder and Hughesville (17-7) play their first state tournament game at 6:30 tonight at Bowman Field against District 3 runner-up Kutztown.
Burkholder is a huge reason the Spartans are still playing. He has won seven straight and has been brilliant in the postseason. He threw a two-hit shutout against South Williamsport in the quarterfinals before closing out Southern Columbia over the final 1 2/3 innings of the semifinals.
After throwing 27 pitches against Southern Columbia on Thursday, many thought Burkholder might grow tired late against Loyalsock. Instead he allowed only three hits through six and finished with a five-hitter and 14 strikeouts. Hughesville warmed up different pitchers, but Burkholder wanted to finish what he started. He opened the ninth inning having thrown 152 pitches but retired the top of Loyalsock’s order, featuring two major Division I recruits, on just 12 pitches while throwing as hard as he had in the first inning.
This was his stage and his moment and Burkholder owned it. What looked like might be a nightmare in the seventh turned into a dream come true two innings later.
“Sadiq pitched unbelievable. I would have had to tackle him to take him out,” Hughesville coach Casey Waller said. “I’ve never had anyone throw that many pitches. I’m proud of him for grinding it out.”
“I started feeling a little tired, but it was hot all day and I was loose,” Burkholder said. “Scoring those two runs in the ninth, the adrenaline came back and I didn’t feel anything.”
As the years pass, Burkholder likely will feel only pride looking back at his performance. When it would have been so easy to sulk and let the game slip away he fought back like a champion. Now that is what he and his teammates are.
“Sadiq was unreal,” Stroup said. “He came out that next (eighth) inning and had fire in his belly. He wanted the game and it was his to have. There was nothing else to it.”
While Loyalsock lost the district final it still has a shot to win a state championship. The Lancers (18-3) clinched a state tournament berth when they edged Montoursville in a riveting 2-1 semifinal thriller as Robbie Klein drew a walk-off walk and Datres threw a three-hitter. Loyalsock plays its state tournament opener today at Scranton High School against District 2 champion Lakeland.
That Loyalsock is still playing is quite an achievement. The Lancers have been ravaged by injuries throughout the season and also lost one of their best all-around players midway through the season. Through it all, they kept thriving, won a fifth straight HAC-II championship and nearly won another district title.
“We’ve lost some key guys and when one guy went down people were saying, ‘I don’t know if you can do it,’ and then another guy went down and then the doubts started to grow even more,” Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. “For us to battle and have guys step up, as a coach, you can’t ask for anything more than that. We’re not satisfied, though. We started the year with one goal and our goal is to win our last game that we play so we have some work to do.”
Loyalsock has Datres available to pitch today and also comes in looking for redemption. Again too, the Lancers are underdogs, playing the District 2 champion that is 17-1 and has one of the state’s premier pitchers ready to throw in their own backyard.
Then again, it would not be Loyalsock if it did not have to overcome a big obstacle. Big challenges are the ones it likes best.
“It shows that we’re mature,” Klein said. “We want the best for the seniors. We don’t want them leaving without getting more wins.”
BRING IT ON
Jersey Shore-Milton has been District 4’s best softball rivalry the last eight seasons and Friday was the sixth time during that time they met in the Class AAA championship. Jersey Shore won for the third straight time, doing so in resounding fashion, 7-2. The Bulldogs (15-8) captured their third championship in four seasons and play District 2 champion Valley View today at Marywood University in their state tournament opener.
The last three Jersey Shore district championships have come against Milton and the Bulldogs take the field with no fear despite the Black Panthers also being such a decorated program.
“A lot of people are like ‘Oh my Gosh, we play Milton!’ but I love it because we see the best out of both our teams,” Jersey Shore coach Chris Glenn said. “I’m just glad we came out of here with the win. It’s definitely a good day to beat Milton. You’re getting their best game, I guarantee it.”
Just to get a shot at Milton, Jersey Shore had to defeat tournament favorite Mifflinburg. The top-seeded Wildcats (17-4) were the HAC-I champions and won their last five regular-season games. Rebecca Caputo, though, threw a five-hit complete game, Bryce Hillyard hit a go-ahead double and the defense played an error-less game as the Bulldogs won, 1-0, in nine innings.
The more things change in AAA, the more they stay the same.
“I love the fact a lot of people thought there was going to be Mifflinburg out here, but the orange teams were out here for that final,” Glenn said. “Mifflinburg was a quality team coming in here, had very few losses and a four-year starter (pitcher Alli Lloyd) and we had to play our best ball to beat them.”