Unbeaten South Park defeats Hopewell in 9th inning to claim WPIAL Class AAA title
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An imperfect ending left South Park perfect.
A ninth-inning, bases-loaded walk drawn by South Park's Adam Thompson forced home teammate Nick Yobbi with the winning run in Tuesday night's 4-3 extra-innings victory over Hopewell in the WPIAL Class AAA championship.
South Park needed endurance to claim its first WPIAL crown by winning the league's longest title game since 1975, when Beaver Falls beat Springdale in 13 innings.
“We know to never give up,” Yobbi said. “This is amazing. There is no better feeling.”
Top-seeded South Park (24-0) became just the fifth undefeated WPIAL champions since the league expanded baseball to more than one classification in 1979, and the third in the past seven years. Randy Dobnak, who had a two-run home run in the fourth, earned the win with a perfect bottom of the ninth to secure the team's place in history.
“You don't really script it that way,” South Park coach Steve Bucci said. “But I'm proud of them the way they battled.”
No. 2 Hopewell (20-4) was seeking its second title in four seasons.
Facing a full count in the top of the ninth, Thompson took a pitch above the strike zone, giving South Park its first lead. It was the third consecutive walk issued by Hopewell reliever Stefan Mrkonja, including one intentionally.
But to reach that game-ending situation, South Park had to erase a 3-0 deficit and its pitchers had to escape bases-loaded jams in the third and seventh innings, along with a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth.
“This was a heck of a baseball game,” Hopewell coach Michael Shuleski said. “You can pull out 20 different instances where we could have won the game or they could have won the game. The last thing I want to do is put (this loss) on one play.”
South Park joins an unbeaten list that includes previous Class AAA champions Elizabeth Forward (21-0 in 2011) and West Allegheny (23-0 in 2007). The two others, Canevin (20-0 in 1993) and Freeport (17-0 in 1979) were Class AA champions.
Quaker Valley had tried earlier Tuesday to join the list, having been unbeaten before losing to Beaver, 7-1, in the Class AA championship.
“That means a lot to them,” Bucci said, “and they can take this with them no matter what happens (in the PIAA playoffs).”
A two-run home run by second baseman Logan Johnston gave Hopewell a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. With shortstop Ryan Cox on base with a leadoff single, Johnston bounced a two-out pitch off the advertisements beyond the right-field fence.
Those were the first runs allowed this postseason by South Park.
Hopewell added another run in the second. Clayton Covalt drew a leadoff walk, reached third on right fielder Shane Martin's single and scored on a two-out throwing error.
South Park tied the score with a three-run fourth inning that included Dobnak's home run. Chris Winkler, who was hit by a pitch and reached second on a balk, scored South Park's first run when first baseman Shane Fetsko singled to right.
Both starters allowed three runs. Hopewell's Covalt allowed four hits, struck out four and walked none in five innings. South Park's Yobbi escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third when Covalt grounded into an inning-ending double-play.
Pitching was a strength this season for South Park. The Eagles have three college-bound starters and used them all against Hopewell. Yobbi (South Carolina-Aiken) allowed six hits, two walks and four strikeouts before being replaced by Jake Bywalski one out into the fourth.
Bywalski, a Concord recruit who started in center field, allowed just one hit in three scoreless inning.
Dobnak recorded the final eight outs, which included escaping a bases-loaded jam in the seventh. The Alderson-Broaddus recruit entered with Hopewell's Arion Sepp already on base. A one-out single by Mrkonja and Johnston's intentional walk loaded them. Dobnak then struck out Tim Hughes and Covalt to escape.
In the bottom of the eighth, Hopewell came close again. With two on and one out, Ryan Cox bunted and was hit in the back by the catcher's throw while running to first inside the baseline. The umpire called Cox out for interference and made the runners return to first and second.
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