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Decade’s best No. 5: South’s 2019 district title win was exciting against Sayre in baseball at Bowman Field

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO South Williamsport players celebrate with each other after defeating Sayre, 2-1, in the District 4 Class AA championship game in 2019 at Bowman Field.

The looming dark storm clouds signaled more than potential weather problems.

This 2019 District 4 Class AA championship already had endured a 44-minute, fifth-inning lightning delay. And as the bottom of the seventh progressed, it looked like this 1-1 thriller might be dealt a knockout blow. If the game was suspended, South Williamsport ace Tripp Breen could not throw again the next day. If the game was suspended, the momentum South was building might fade away.

So Pete Sinibaldi solved that problem with one swing.

After South loaded the bases with one out, Sinibaldi stroked a walk-off single into left field and the Mounties edged Sayre, 2-1, to capture a second straight district championship for the first time in program history. Less than five minutes following that game-winning hit, the skies opened up and it poured for the next 30 minutes, turning Bowman Field into a quagmire.

Talk about a timely hit.

“I’ve always wanted a walkoff,” Sinibaldi said while standing under the Bowman Field canopy to avoid the rain. “It wasn’t a home run like thought back then (when he was younger), but this is great, too.”

“That’s awesome for these kids,” South coach Smokey Stover said. “They are giving us everything they have and we are getting everything out of them. These kids have come a long way.”

Stover built on the success South had enjoyed under previous coach Shawn Finn when he arrived in 2017. The Mounties reached the district final that season before avenging that title game loss by blanking Wellsboro, 7-0, for the 2018 championship. While South lost some good players from that team. It also featured a strong mix of senior leaders and promising young athletes last year.

Breen built off a fantastic junior season and became one of the state’s best pitchers, going 11-2 with a 0.69 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings. Logan Burkett also pitched well and was part of an efficient offense which produced throughout the order.

Then there was an X-factor which helped South all season and became especially prevalent in the postseason. This was one tough team. The Mounties welcomed challenges and won six one-run games while going 18-5. The Sayre victory made it 8-1 in games decided by two runs or one run and it defeated District 2-4 Class 6A runner-up Williamsport, 1-0, at the Backyard Brawl.

“I think we stay calm because we’ve been in these games all year playing these bigger schools,” Burkett said following the district final. “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 was locked in another battle against Sayre, a hard-hitting team which had captured the two previous District 4 Class A championships before moving up to AA in 2019. Breen again was overpowering and opened with 4 2/3 perfect innings. One run was often all Breen needed and when Ryan Rischoff hit a third-inning triple and scored on Landon Lorson’s sacrifice fly it appeared South might be on its way to another championship. Quinn Hanafin, though, hit a two-out single two innings later to break up the perfect game and scored a batter later on Brayden Horton’s double, tying the game, 1-1.

Neither the weather nor Sayre could touch Breen from there. Despite the 44-minute delay, Breen remained locked in and let just one runner move past second base the rest of the way, throwing a four-hitter and striking out 10. He also teamed up with Burkett to make the game’s pivotal defensive play in the seventh inning. With Hanafin on second and two outs, Breen fielded a slow roller between the mound and third base before making a snap throw to first. Burkett did an excellent job extending himself and fielding the ball as the throw beat Esposito by a step.

South had momentum entering the bottom of the seventh and Breen put a bow on another dazzling performance, throwing 59 of his 78 pitches for strikes.

“I was giving it every ounce of energy I had and doing everything I could. I knew I just had to keep duking it out,” Breen said. “I knew all I had to do was keep throwing strikes because my guys ate everything up. They made great plays behind me. We came ready to play and the guys were all hyped.”

They grew even more energized when Breen led off the bottom of the seventh with a single as the dark clouds descended upon Bowman Field. Tyler Trojan ran for Breen and reached second on Lorson’s bunt. Second baseman Hunter Finn was intentionally walked and Cole Brewer drew a four-pitch walk, loading the bases and giving Sinibaldi a shot at living a dream.

Sinibaldi took a strike on a changeup and correctly guessed a fastball was coming next. The senior shortstop jumped on the pitch, drove it into left field and scored Trojan. The celebration was on as happy teammates swallowed Sinibaldi along the first-base line, basking in the glow of another dramatic win.

“I started running in, but once I started I could see them coming at me so I started running the other way, but someone caught my leg and took me down,” Sinibaldi said. “It was just a great feeling.”

The good feelings continued into the state tournament. South battered Riverside in the opening round, winning the program’s first-ever state game before winning a 2-1 cliff-hanging quarterfinal against Schuylkill Haven. Devon Prep defeated South, 3-1, in the semifinals, but this was an historic season produced by a group of players who repeatedly brushed away the storm clouds and excelled when the pressure was highest.

“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.”

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