Toughness and production from South’s Burkett are reasons Mounties are in semis

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette South Williamsport’s Logan Burkett pitches during Thursday’s PIAA Class AA quarterfinal at Central Columbia against Schuylkill Haven.

Logan Burkett jumped off the mound, celebrating a game-ending strikeout. Except his 1-2 pitch that looked like it painted the outside corner was called a ball.

Instead of Burkett sealing a dramatic South Williamsport win, he now faced a 2-2 count as the tying runner stood at third base. Burkett could have buckled, but that is not his style.

The South senior is as tough as he is skilled. He displayed short-term memory, came back strong and ended the game two pitches later. Burkett struck out Schuylkill Haven’s final batter, sealing South’s thrilling 2-1 Class AA state quarterfinal win Thursday at Central Columbia. Burkett retired both hitters he faced after replacing Tripp Breen with the tying runs on base and, as much as any, that sequence perfectly represented who Burkett is and what he provides South.

Burkett’s toughness and production are big reasons why South (18-4) is headed to the state’s Final Four for the first time and has made history with its last three wins. Burkett and the Mounties will try doing that again Monday when they play Devon Prep in the state semifinals.

“I just shook (the 1-2 call) off. I knew if I just threw it and did everything we’ve practiced that we’d be fine and it happened,” Burkett said. “It worked. It’s crazy. You normally don’t get to play baseball after graduation and we’re one of the four teams in Double A that gets to do that.”

“It’s kind of like last year against Wellsboro (in the district final) when Logan came in during the last inning and had to get the job done and he did,” Breen said. “He’s got arrogance out there. He’s mentally tough and he knows what he’s doing. He’s ready to go out there and throw.”

Burkett has done that all season and has provided a perfect complement to Breen who won his 11th game Thursday. The right-hander is 6-3 with a 1.45 ERA and earned his third save with Thursday’s super performance. Breen overpowered Schuylkill Haven for 6 1/3 innings, striking out 13 and Burkett made sure there was no drop off when he took over.

Schuylkill Haven might have thought it was receiving a break when Breen exited. Instead, it learned fast Burkett is quite a pitcher as well. And they learned that there is no breaking this senior leader.

“I know Logan. He’s clutch,” center fielder Luke Winner said. “You can put him in whenever and he’s going to do his job. We all had confidence in Logan.”

Burkett started his season 4-0 and was mowing through opponents like a John Deere tractor. He hit a rough patch, however, around midseason and lost three of four decisions. Three of those losses were to District 4 Class AAA semifinalists who won 49 combined games. Still, there was more to it than just running into some excellent teams.

This was more a mechanical issue. Burkett was not staying back on his pitches. He was moving in too fast and losing both velocity on his fastball and movement on his curveball. It was back to the lab following the regular season as Burkett and coach Smokey Stover spent the next 12 days refining that delivery.

All appears good again. Burkett has closed out both South state tournament wins, throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out four. He is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning and has done some of his best pitching at the perfect time.

“Burkett was really sharp when he came in. I was really pleased with him,” Stover said. “When he is where he is right now he’s really good. He can keep you in any game with anybody. He’s a tough kid.”

And Burkett is much more than just a pitcher. He also is a reliable cleanup hitter who is batting .338 and an excellent first baseman who has a .950 fielding percentage. Before he threw a pitch, Burkett made a big impact against Schuylkill Haven. He stopped a laser-like groundball that was headed down the line in the first inning, capping a perfect first inning. He also teamed up with shortstop Pete Sinibaldi to make a key fourth-inning play, Sinibaldi making a good stop and throw on a slow roller and Burkett a nice scoop on the one-hop throw.

If either of those plays go the other way, the game’s complexion could have changed. In a contest where the margin of victory was so slim, the importance of those quality plays becomes more magnified.

“He knows his job and he did an amazing job on first base, too,” Breen said. “He’s done an amazing job swinging the bat and he’s been there for us all year.”

Burkett has delivered timely hits throughout the season, including the go-ahead RBI single in a 3-1 victory over Towanda, and the lone RBI hit in an exciting 1-0 Backyard Brawl win against Williamsport. He has 16 RBIs and went 1 for 2 with two runs in the state tournament opener against Blue Ridge. Burkett’s 4 for 5 performance helped South win its first game this year as South bounced back from a season-opening loss and defeated Bloomsburg, 9-2.

Early, middle, late … it has not mattered. Burkett has been there for South all season and he has helped make this the best season in program history.

“He does a great job,” Winner said. “If not for Logan, I don’t know where we’d be.”