South’s Breen has been a relentless worker

The baseball bug bit Tripp Breen early and as a child, he need not wander far finding friends sharing that similar affliction.

Cody Shimp and Kyle Caringi lived nearby so the three frequently played together and dreamed big. Breen eventually moved to Williamsport, but remarkably, the trio will reunite and play together next spring. Shimp is a freshman pitcher at St. Bonaventure. Breen and Caringi, pitching for Williamsport, will join him next season. The baseball gang is getting back together and Breen is watching a childhood fantasy become reality.

“It’s back to my childhood,” Breen said. “I just keep telling myself keep pushing, always play hard for everything and always pray it works out. Keep working hard and good things happen.”

Breen is providing living proof. A relentless worker, the South Williamsport senior has become one of the district’s best pitchers over the last three seasons, helping his team play in consecutive district finals and capture its first district championship in 16 years. Everything that makes Breen good was evident last Wednesday against Hughesville when he threw a six-hit complete-game, struck out 13 and helped South win, 2-1.

It was not just that Breen often overpowered Hughesville, it was how he did it. The Spartans (7-2) consistently put pressure on and Breen always slammed the door shut. The right-hander stranded six runners in scoring position, including the tying runners on third in each of the last two innings. Breen took a hard-luck loss in the season opener when Hughesville won, 1-0, but would not let South (7-1) lose the rematch, showing that he is talented, poised and tough.

“That kid over there (Breen) is the ultra competitor on the mound,” Hughesville coach Chris Kish said. “He wasn’t coming out. He is very good. He’s a humble kid, too. He’s a great kid.”

Breen is 3-1 this season with a 0.86 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings. He has surrendered just 11 hits during that time and has struck out at least 11 in three consecutive starts. His 13 wins over the last two seasons are tops among area pitchers and he is a big reason South has taken the lead in a fierce HAC-III title race.

“Tripp really came back hard. He wants to work so hard,” South coach Smokey Stover said. “I changed quite a bit on him. A couple years ago he used to just throw it. Now he is a pitcher. We’ve got him lined up.”

That has been evident since Breen’s sophomore year. He started showing what was coming that season, surging late, throwing a gem in the state tournament against Marian Catholic and compiling 2.10 ERA while nearly averaging a strikeout per inning. The only problem was a lack of run support as Breen took several hard-luck losses and finished 3-5.

As last season progressed, Breen not only grew as a pitcher but as a person. He became someone who could push his teammates in a positive way and back up his words with stellar play. What might have frustrated him as a sophomore did not faze him as he grew more mature, more experienced and evolved into a dominant pitcher. He won 10 games last season with a 1.35 ERA and a district-best 108 strikeouts.

What Breen has become is a consummate team player. He not only pitches well, but makes his teammates better in the process.

“He has grown into a leader. He didn’t know how to be a leader at first and now he’s showing by example,” Stover said. “He keeps everything moving on the field. In a kind way, he has everyone working. He learned how to be a leader. He’s a good one, too. The biggest thing I like about him the most is he has become a great leader.”

St. Bonaventure likes that as well as Breen’s ability. Ironically, Breen was not on a lot of Division I radars following last season. It was his mother Kelli who encouraged him to write St. Bonaventure when he was playing nearby for the West End All-Stars in last year’s Babe Ruth World Series. The Bonnies watched Breen throw there, liked what they saw and soon offered him that coveted collegiate opportunity.

“I’m just glad and blessed that they gave me an opportunity and an offer like that,” Breen said. “It’s just a really nice place up there. I really like it.”

Breen is hoping his scholastic career lasts as long as possible, but is excited knowing that the end of high school baseball does not mean the end of his playing days. A baseball journey that began more than a decade ago has come full circle.

The odds of three friends living on the same block and eventually reaching Division I college baseball are small. The chances of those three all becoming college teammates on the same pitching staff? That is almost beyond belief.

“I never would have imagined this,” Breen said. “I’m so shocked with everything.”

But he sure is enjoying living the dream.

FRESHMAN SENSATION

It took Loyalsock coach Zac Martin exactly one at-bat to realize freshman Nick Barone could do big things this season. Barone’s first at-bat came against North Schuylkill fireballer Reggie Crawford. Nothing like facing a pitcher throwing 93 miles per hour as a welcome to high school baseball moment.

Barone was not afraid. He liked the battle and he won it, ripping a single. He has not stopped raking since, hitting safely in eight of his first nine games while accumulating one of the area’s best batting averages.

“Nick Barone is extremely impressive. He’s hitting over .500 and facing some of the best pitchers around,” Martin said. “He fouled off the first pitch against Crawford and then rocketed the second one off his leg and from that moment on we knew he wasn’t intimidated. He’s extremely talented.”

Barone has put together two four-game hitting streaks and Loyalsock (4-5) started heating up with an impressive 18-1 win at defending District 4 Class AAAA champion Lewisburg. He has produced five multi-hit performances in his last five games, hitting a home run, four doubles and driving in 10 runs.

Everybody was hitting against Lewisburg. The Lancers delivered 15 hits and Dane Armson went 4 for 4 with a triple and double. Connor Watkins, Alex Schluter and Rees Watkins all had two hits and Loyalsock showed why it remains dangerous.

EXTRA BASES

Central Mountain’s Cardiac Cats were at it last week, winning thrilling walk-off games against Danville and Altoona, 5-4 and 7-6, respectively. The Wildcats (6-3) rallied from a three-run seventh-inning deficit against Altoona and won their fourth straight game. Aidan Major pitched four innings of one-hit relief in that victory, Zane Probst earned the win against Danville and Peyton Johnson went 3 for 5 in the two games … St. John Neumann pitcher Solomon Grant is enjoying a breakout season and improved to 2-0 as the Knights defeated Muncy, 13-3. Grant also had two hits and Malaki Parlante recorded his second straight two-hit game. Speaking of Muncy, Coleman Good returned from injury and made a huge impact, going 7 for 9 in his first two games with two doubles. Coty Steele continued his big senior season in a 12-5 win against Bucktail, hitting two home runs and a double while adding five RBIs … Sticking with the walk-off theme, Lewisburg scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Midd-West, 5-4. Josh Heath drove in four runs and Aaron Strosser went 3 for 4 with a run … North Penn-Mansfield pitcher Brandyn Choplosky was outstanding against Troy, throwing a complete-game five-hitter as the Tigers won, 3-1. Dylan Williamson had two hits and an RBI … That same day, Wellsboro sophomore pitcher Zack Rowland also was locked in, throwing a two-hitter in a 9-1 win against Towanda. Silas Wagaman went 2 for 3 with two runs.

DR. MASSE’S BASEBALL TOP 5

1. Montoursville (8-1): Mifflinburg snapped Montoursville’s 20-game winning streak against District 4 opponents last Wednesday when it won a 6-5 thriller. A day later, however, Central Columbia defeated Mifflinburg and Montoursville moved back into a HAC-II first-place tie. The Warriors host Mifflinburg later this season and are atop the Class AAA standings, so if they use that first loss as a learning experience it could produce nothing but positives since all the championship goals remain firmly in place. Keep an eye on freshman Nolan Kutney. The second baseman made his first start nine days ago and has embraced his opportunity. In three starts, Kutney is 4 for 7 and has reached base in seven of his 10 at-bats. He also has four runs and two RBIs.

2. South Williamsport (7-1): Breen is not the only Mountie pitcher having a terrific season. Logan Burkett improved to 3-0, throwing six shutout innings in a 6-0 victory against Southern Columbia. He has surrendered just one earned run in three starts while striking out 18. Pete Sinibaldi threw six shutout innings in his first start and Luke Winner closed out the Southern game by striking out the side. The Mounties have surrendered just eight runs in eight games and have not let an opponent score more than two runs in a contest.

3. Hughesville (7-2): Hughesville is just a game behind South in the HAC-III and won a big game last Monday, defeating fellow District 4 Class AAA title contender Mount Carmel, 7-3. Dylon Pequignot is tied for the area wins lead (4) and threw a seven-hit complete-game. Versatile Jacob Corson is starting to surge offensively and the three-year starter came within a few feet of hitting two home runs last week. Corson homered, doubled and drove in three runs. Catcher Chase Bremigen added three hits, a double and an RBI. Hughesville has been balanced offensively throughout the season. Stroup and Swank combined on a 6-hitter against South and Stroup has allowed only two runs in nine innings against South this year.

4. Williamsport (4-3): A young team has hit its first road block, dropping three straight games. Williamsport had its chances in a doubleheader sweep against Hollidaysburg, but four errors cost it in a 3-2, extra-inning Game 2 loss. Left-hander Jon Zayas is shining in his first full year of varsity pitching and held a strong offense to one hit and no earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out six and has 21 strikeouts in his three starts. Catcher Drake Mankey is surging and went 5 for. 8 in those games, hitting a double and driving in two runs. Senior shortstop Brayton Rowello is hitting nearly .500 over his five games and Riley Hilner has provided offensive and pitching depth since returning from an injury.

5. Montgomery (6-1): Opponents keep pushing Montgomery hard and the Red Raiders keep answering. They won two hard-fought, two-run games against Mid-Penn rivals CMVT and Sullivan County, remaining tied for first with Millville. Montgomery is 4-1 in games decided by two runs or fewer with its only loss coming at Montoursville. The Raiders rallied from two down in the sixth inning against CMVT before matching a season-high with 12 hits against Sullivan County. They snapped Sullivan’s four-game winning streak and four players produced at least two hits. Gage Yohn blasted a home run and Kalen Guyer continued his hot hitting. Guyer has hit safely in four straight games and has at least one RBI in three of those games.

Nate Higley, Sullivan County

and Michael Buck, Warrior Run

Higley, the first state wrestling medalist in school history, has translated that success to the diamond and went 6 for 7 with two home runs, two doubles and four RBIs as the Griffins split two games. Higley went 2 for 2 against Montgomery and has helped the Griffins (4-3) win four of their last five games. Buck was outstanding in a 4-0 win against Muncy, sparking Warrior Run with his arm and bat. Buck helped one of the area’s youngest teams win its first game, throwing a 3-hit shutout and also hitting a home run. It was the kind of performance that could help Warrior Run look like a different team during the season’s second half.

Hughesville at Loyalsock

One of the area’s best rivalries this decade is renewed Saturday afternoon. Last year’s game was another thriller with Loyalsock winning a pitcher’s duel 1-0 after the teams combined for just five hits. Expect another close one as both teams seek a big win.

Chris Masse may be reached by email at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

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