South players went from rivals to teammates

Once upon a time they were rivals. Now they are best friends.

And the seven recent South Williamsport graduates have come together as one, helping the baseball program enjoy its best season ever. The players who once tried beating each other are now linked together forever as the Mounties head toward Monday’s Class AA state semifinals against Devon Prep.

Logan Burkett, Hunter Finn, Buddy Harris, Tripp Breen, Pete Sinibaldi, Tyler Trojan and AJ Flick once were split between the Newberry and South Williamsport Little Leagues. That goes ditto for several underclassmen. Once they reached high school, all those players came together.

They were good rivals, but together they have become one of the state’s top four Class AA teams.

“When we were younger everybody was battling against each other,” Burkett said. “We’ve known each other from baseball and ever since we got to ninth grade, we’ve played together and came together and stuck together since then. We have a lot of chemistry and we bonded well.”

That has shown throughout this senior class’s high school journey. The Mounties (18-4) have reached three straight district finals, captured consecutive district championships and won the first two state tournament games in program history. The back to back district titles also are a program first and this year’s HAC-III championship was the first league crown South won since 2012.

There was a time when these teammates could not wait trying to one-up each other. How ironic that they are the ones helping send South higher and higher. The Mounties kept making history last Thursday, beating District 11 Schuylkill Haven, 2-1, and those seniors had their fingerprints all over the victory.

“We have chemistry and that’s what you need,” Breen said. “We’re really close.”

A football injury prevented Flick from playing this season. Harris and Trojan have been valuable reserves and Trojan scored the district championship winning run on Sinibaldi’s walk-off single against Sayre. Burkett, Breen and Sinibaldi have all delivered clutch pitching performances and combined to deliver timely hits. Finn also has some big hits in addition to compiling a .383 on-base percentage and providing strong defense at second base.

Just as crucial as the play has been the leadership these seniors have provided. Little has come easy this season with South facing a demanding schedule and playing a series of close games against good teams. But the Mounties are still standing. They have won six one-run games and have consistently shown they are as hard-nosed as they are talented.

That does not happen without excellent leaders. Coaches can talk until they are blue in the face, but at some point the players have to assume pivotal guidance roles. And this group has embraced them like a happy child does a new puppy.

“I told these guys, ‘You seniors have to be leaders. We’re not going to win anything if you don’t and our goal is to win a state title,'” said South coach Smokey Stover said who has more than 40 years of coaching experience at Jersey Shore, Lock Haven University and South. “I’ve been talking about that since last year and we could have made a run last year, but we tightened up. We weren’t used to being here and now they’re getting a little used to it and are just going out and playing. The leadership is outstanding. They do everything you ask.”

A lot of that can be seen during games with several players serving as on-field coaches. But a lot it happens behind the scenes. What so few see at practice has played a huge role in why South is still playing.

And it is not always the big stuff that sends a powerful message. Something as simple as making sure the dugout is clean before the team exits practice or making sure the players pick up all the equipment can resonate. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things. The example this class has set is that if one does things right on and off the field, greatness might follow. That greatness might not always correlate with on-field results, but will help everyone grow.

The thing is, South is achieving that baseball greatness while setting the seniors help set up themselves and their teammates for future success in whatever endeavor they pursue.

“That’s what we’ve been preaching,” Stover said. “At Lock Haven we had a couple groups that had real good leadership, but this is by far the best senior leadership I’ve ever had with a high school team. They gather everyone together and say, ‘We’re not going to put up with this. We have to fight to do this. We have to hustle.’ These guys took over everything.”

Life often can be funny. In the heat of battle while they were younger, these players probably were not thinking about joining forces. They simply wanted to win and secure neighborhood bragging rights.

Years later they, and the entire team, have become one family. Together, this family is writing quite a final chapter to their high school baseball journey.

“I pitched to (catcher) Dom Harding and I played against Logan,” Breen said. “It’s our childhoods coming together and playing the game we love. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.”