South wins 1st district championship since 2002.

By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | May 30, 2018


ALMEDIA — South Williamsport left the field dejected, but focused last May.

Tuesday, the players left the Central Columbia High School field as champions.

South learned a lot from last year's district championship defeat and, given a second chance, embraced the moment while playing a near flawless game. Tripp Breen threw 6 2/3 innings of shutout baseball, Ben Johnson went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and Hunter Finn hit a triple as South defeated Wellsboro, 7-0 and captured the District 4 Class AA championship.

South (14-6) won its first district title since 2002 and avenged last year's title game loss against Wellsboro. The Mounties also earned a spot against Bellwood-Antis in Monday's state tournament at a District 4 site.

"We wanted revenge and we got it," Breen said. "It's overwhelming. It's just so much happiness and joy and excitement. This is what we wanted and we've got it."

South earned it by playing one of its most complete games. Breen and Logan Burkett combined on a three-hitter and Breen won his district-high 10th game. The defense played an error-less game and different players took turns delivering timely hits.

A team which opened the season 0-2 and made 10 errors in those games, kept improving and working all season. This is a tradition-laden program, but one which had lost four straight district title games. All that work has wiped away those frustrating near-misses and gave this team a special place in program history.

"It's crazy. It feels amazing. I'm at a loss for words," said Finn, whose father Shawn coached South to its last district championship in 2002 when his son was 1. "We said (Monday) that we're not going to play how we did last year (in the final). We're going to come back and play hard and hit them in the mouth and this was the best game we've played this year."

"They have really grown up and I'm really proud of the whole team," South coach Smokey Stover said. "They have really come together. I'm happier for them more than anything."

South really grew happy at 6:41 p.m. Breen ended his day by recording his fourth and fifth strikeouts before reaching his pitch-count limit. Logan Burkett relieved Breen and induced a pop up which Johnson caught as he hustled from first base. Just like that, 16 years of frustration were wiped away.

Shortstop Peter Sinibaldi jumped high into the air, Finn threw his glove and jubilant teammates piled upon each other a split second later.

Breen was brilliant again, winning for the 10th time in 11 decisions, scattering three hits and baffling a team which had scored eight runs in a district semifinal win against Southern Columbia. He let just one runner reach third and ended the threat when Johnson made an excellent scoop on a throw in the dirt for the third inning's final out.

"To go from last year to this year is just awesome," Breen said after not allowing an earned run in 12 2/3 district innings pitched. "We were so much more prepared this year to take it on and so much more excited and ready. It was all-around energy all the time."

Johnson cranked up that energy in the third inning as South took a lead it never relinquished. Burkett walked and pinch-runner Cole Brewer scored on a two-out error. Johnson then displayed the good two-strike approach South had all day, fought back from 0-2 and rocketed an RBI triple into the right-center field gap that made it 2-0.

"I just kind of had to clear my mind and swing. You can't think about it much," the Division I-bound lineman said. "I just really tried to take it center-right field and clear my mind and hit the ball and it just went. Most people don't think I'm very fast and I like proving people wrong."

Dom Harding made it 3-0 when hit hit an RBI third-inning single and Finn's triple fueled a fourth-inning rally. The second baseman slammed a lead-off triple to deep center field, scoring on the first of two Hunter Corbin sacrifice flies.

"It felt real good. After I missed all those curves my first two times up, I had to hit one of those," Finn said. "Everyone was on today. Everyone had their assignments and carried them out."

Silas Wagaman went 2 for 3 for Wellsboro but the Hornets never could mount a serious threat after falling behind. Wellsboro (15-6), however, is state tournament-bound for a second straight year and will play the District 11 champion at a District 11 site Monday as it seeks its first-ever state win.

South broke things open in the sixth, scoring three times and going up, 7-0. Burkett ignited the rally with a double and Finn brought in the fifth run with an RBI walk. The next two batters also produced runs. Corbin hit a sacrifice fly and Johnson ripped an RBI single.

All that really remained was a celebration 16 years in the making.

"We're just having fun every time we play," Johnson said. "We really care about each other as a team and it really shows when we come together."