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South Park starts fast, beats Blackhawk in 4A semifinals

| Monday, June 12, 2017, 10:27 p.m.

Two weeks after being shut out by Blackhawk in the WPIAL Class 4A championship, South Park got started quickly in a rematch in the PIAA Class 4A semifinals.

The Eagles (23-3) thumped the typically stellar pitching of Blackhawk (23-3) from the start, scoring five runs in the first inning on their way to a 10-3 victory.

As a result, South Park will play for its first state championship in baseball.

“For this team, this means everything. They had really been overlooked for the whole season. We've been picked to lose in a lot of these playoff rounds but we knew we had a good team,” South Park coach Steve Bucci said. “We had a chance to prove people wrong a couple of weeks ago, and we just didn't get it done. … We played well enough to win. We just didn't cash in. Today, we did, and that's all it took.”

The Eagles took off in the bottom of the first inning, starting with back-to-back singles by Tyler Bywalski and Adam Morris. A walk to Kyle Thompson loaded the bases for Mike Kentzel, who was hit by a pitch. A wild pitch from Cougars' starter Andy McClymonds scored another run before Steve Moore grounded out to make it 3-0. Mitchel Roell added a RBI single before Kevin Vaupel laced a double to left-center field to plate South Park's fifth run.

“We tinkered with our approach a little bit as far as how we'd attack their arms, because they have four or five good ones. We knew coming in that we'd have to jump on them to win,” Bucci said.

“The guys just came out swinging early and never looked back.”

Blackhawk chipped away at the Eagles' lead, scoring a run in the top of the second and two more in the fourth. Shortstop Mark Engel led the charge from the WPIAL champs with a pair of triples.

However, South Park lefty Kevin Vaupel displayed poise and never lost control on the mound, tossing six innings. He allowed three earned runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.

“Honestly, getting down early kind of just took us out of our whole game,” Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia said. “We couldn't run. We couldn't bunt. We couldn't do any of the stuff that we normally do on offense.”

The Eagles' bats continued to make noise, as they put up a run in the second and fourth innings and then tacked on three more in the fifth to fully insure the win.

Thompson and Josh Wagner finished with two hits and two RBIs for South Park. Eight of the Eagles' batters had at least one hit.

“We definitely had a little extra juice coming in to today. They're the district champ, and that's fine. They're a good, quality team, and they're well-coached,” Bucci said of Blackhawk.

“But we're moving on, and now we're going after the big prize here.”

South Park advances to the PIAA Class 4A state championship game, which will be held at 1 p.m. at Mueller Field at Lubrano Park at Penn State University on Friday against Dallas.

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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