Unbeaten South Park Eagles soar

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South Park had dreams of making WPIAL history Tuesday night, but the Eagles never envisioned it playing out like it did.

Adam Thompson drew a bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning to score the winning run and the South Park Eagles won a WPIAL title with an undefeated record, edging the Hopewell Vikings, 4-3, in the Class AAA championship at Consol Energy Park in Washington.

It was the longest WPIAL championship game in any classification since Beaver Falls beat Springdale, 1-0, in 13 innings in 1975.

South Park (24-0) became the fifth team to win a WPIAL title with an undefeated record since the league expanded to more than one class in baseball in 1979. It also was the Eagles' first WPIAL baseball title.

"It's incredible," South Park coach Steve Bucci said. "It's nice to finally put to sleep the being perfect thing. Now we can focus on the state playoffs."

Nick Yobbi hit a hard single to center to lead off the top of the ninth. Two outs later, the Eagles took advantage of Hopewell pitcher Stefan Mrkonja's control issues. Mrkonja walked Randy Dobnak and Greg Pantuso to load the bases. On a 3-2 pitch, Mrkonja walked Thompson to score the winning run.

"He was all around the plate. If one of the calls goes the other way, this might have been a totally different story," Hopewell coach Mike Shuleski said.

Hopewell (20-4) flexed its offensive muscles early, taking a 2-0 first-inning lead. Ryan Cox led off with a single. Then, after a pop up and strikeout, Logan Johnston smacked a two-run homer to left.

With two outs and runners on first and third in the second, Cox hit a ground ball to the right side. South Park's Carter Grote fielded the ball and threw to first, but his toss pulled Shane Fetsko off the bag, allowing Shane Martin to score and put Hopewell ahead, 3-0.

Hopewell threatened to blow the game open in the fourth, loading the bases with nobody out. Arion Sepp led off with a single. Mrkonja then hit a ball that center fielder Jake Bywalski appeared to lose in the lights, and it dropped in front of him. Johnston drew an intentional walk, putting South Park in a major jam.

Instead of allowing its championship hopes to evaporate, South Park turned the situation around. Tim Hughes flied to right, and South Park got Clayton Covalt to hit into an inning-ending double play.

"To me, that was huge," Bucci said. "It was 3-0. If they score a couple runs, or even one run, it could have been, 'Let's say good night.' "

The Eagles followed the scare with a three-run fourth that tied the score. With two outs, Chris Winkler was hit by a pitch, took second on a balk and scored on Fetsko's single. Dobnak then smacked a two-run homer just inside the foul pole in left.

Hopewell nearly won the game in the seventh. Sepp walked, and Dobnak relieved Bywalski. Mrkonja beat out an infield single. With Johnston batting, Sepp stole third and South Park intentionally walked Johnston. Dobnak then struck out Hughes and Covalt.

The Vikings came close again in the eighth. With one out and runners on first and second, Cox hit a ball just in front of the plate. Catcher Justin Dilla picked it up and threw to first. It hit Cox's back. With the ball rolling away, pinch-runner Adam Murray scored. But, as the Hopewell players began to celebrate, the first-base umpire ruled Cox out on runner's interference. Sepp flied out to end the inning.

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