Once more, Mounties played close, hard-fought game to win

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette South Williamsport players celebrate with their District 4 Class AA championship medals Wednesday after defeating Sayre, 2-1, at Bowman Field.

As the game remained tied and the skies turned dark, South Williamsport players remained confident.

Sayre had tied Wednesday’s District 4 Class AA final in the fourth inning and it stayed that way entering the seventh. That was when coach Smokey Stover essentially reminded his players that they had this game exactly where they wanted it. Truthfully, South would rather unload on an opponent and make things easier itself, but that has not been its style. The Mounties have played a series of close, hard-fought games and nearly every time, they have prevailed.

Wednesday was no different.

Tripp Breen threw a complete game four-hitter, Pete Sinibaldi hit a walkoff single and South captured its second straight district championship, edging Sayre, 2-1, minutes before it started pouring rain. It was the fifth straight time this season South won a one-run game as the Mounties continue showing they are not only good, but also tough.

“Last year we won 7-0 (in the final) so we cruised to that win, but this one was a hard-fought win and Sayre played a great game,” Sinibaldi said. “I was thinking to myself we can’t lose this for everyone that came out has been supporting us all the way. We needed this one and we pulled it out. It was a great feeling.”

“We understood the situation and I’ve been telling them this is the way we play. We win with our fortitude,” Stover said. “I told them early this season we’re going to be in a lot of games like these and we have to learn to play in them and they pretty much accepted that. They’ve been in so many of these situations that they are used to it. It really is a fun group.”

South, which plays District 2 champion Blue Ridge in Monday’s state tournament opener, showed that during a 44-minute weather delay in the fifth inning when it joined Sayre players in acting out various scenes together. Following the delay, it was back to business as Breen picked up where he left off, the defense backed him up and South rallied at the most critical time. Put it together and one has a big key to this team’s success.

The Mounties have fun, but they are fiercely competitive. This group knows when it is time to work and they often do their best work in pressure-filled situations. South has played nine games decided by one run or two runs and it is 8-1 in those games. The only loss came in the season opener against Hughesville and that was 1-0. Since then, South has flourished in close games and that has it perched atop District 4 Class AA for a second straight year.

“It’s just making these guys men. These guys are growing up so much and maturing,” Breen said after striking out 10. “These guys are just tough. They have tough skin. You can’t break these guys. It’s developed through the whole season, but it’s been there. It just keeps getting better and better and it’s awesome.”

Sinibaldi provided South its second walkoff win this season. Luke Winner hit a walkoff home run at midseason when South defeated Bloomsburg, 1-0. Had it not won that game, South would not have won a share of its first league championship since 2012.

And while technically, South only has two walkoff wins, one could argue it should be three. The Mounties won a 1-0 thriller against Williamsport in the Backyard Brawl semifinals after Logan Burkett hit a crucial RBI single and Winner made a spectacular throw home, allowing catcher Dom Harding to make the game-ending tag and retire the Williamsport runner trying to tie the game.

“I think we stay calm because we’ve been in these games all year playing these bigger schools,” Burkett said. “It gets us ready for these games that are going to be close and come down to the end. We stay calm and get it done.”

South exacted revenge against Hughesville at midseason when it rallied for a 2-1 win as Breen repeatedly pitched out of tight spots and threw a six-hitter that included 13 strikeouts. Maybe fittingly, the Mounties then ended their regular season with another hard-nosed win, overcoming a two-run fifth-inning deficit and defeating North Penn-Mansfield, 3-2 when Hunter Finn hit a two-run triple and Dom Harding a sacrifice fly.

Burkett threw 6 1/3 strong innings that day and freshman Grant Bachman earned the save. That illustrates what has been so important here. South consistently has had different heroes deliver in key spots. This is not a group of individuals, but a band of brothers.

“We all rely on each other,” Burkett said. “We trust each other.”

South has proven that so many times this season. The Mounties have played a demanding schedule, built a hard collective shell and generated confidence that they can deliver under any circumstance. Talent goes a long way, but so does grit, determination and resilience.

Those are qualities South has displayed all season. Another challenge comes Monday against Blue Ridge, but expect South to continue exhibiting those traits as it tries winning the first state tournament game in program history.

Whatever this season’s future hold, South has put its mark on that district championship banner that will hang in its gym forever. These players have shown future Mountie teams what it takes.

“It’s the best memory I’ve ever had in high school,” Breen said. “I love this. I love baseball and I love being with these guys on this team. We’re just a family and we play well together.”