For Hopewell, the WPIAL Class AAA championship game was a case of missed opportunities.
The Vikings had plenty of chances to win their fourth title, but always seemed to be one hit short and, in the end, one pitch just out of the strike zone.
Hopewell saw its surge toward a championship fall one win shy after suffering a 4-3 loss in nine innings to undefeated South Park at Consol Energy Park on Tuesday night.
The Vikings (20-4) will continue their season next Monday when they take on District 9 champion Clearfield in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
Against South Park (24-0), Hopewell looked great early, jumping to a 3-0 second-inning lead. Ryan Cox led off the first with a single and scored on Logan Johnston's two-run home run. The Vikings scored again on a South Park error in the second.
"Against a team like that, it's huge to get on the board early," Hopewell coach Mike Shuleski said.
The problem was, Hopewell couldn't come through with any clutch hits from that point on, and South Park soon matched -- and eventually surpassed -- the Vikings' run total.
Hopewell missed out on a chance to perhaps run away with the game in the third inning. Arion Sepp and Stefan Mrkonja had back-to-back singles and Johnston was intentionally walked to load the bases with no outs. Tim Hughes flied out to shallow right field, however, and Clayton Covalt grounded into an inning-ending double play.
"We had some opportunities to get a couple in," Shuleski said. "We had some chances to get some insurance runs or get ahead late in the game, and they made good pitches."
South Park tied the game in the fourth on Shane Fetsko's RBI single and Randy Dobnak's two-run home run.
"We felt that when we got back to 3-3, it was a new ballgame," South Park coach Steve Bucci said.
Hopewell came close to breaking the tie in the sixth, seventh and eighth, getting at least two runners on base each inning.
In the sixth, Hopewell had runners on second and third with two outs, but Austin Mike grounded out. In the seventh, Hopewell had the bases loaded with one out, but Hughes and Covalt struck out.
In the eighth, Hopewell had runners on first and second with one out when Cox hit a ball just in front of the plate. South Park catcher Justin Dilla threw the ball to first, hitting Cox in the back. Runner's interference was called, so Cox was ruled out, and the runners returned to their bases. Sepp flied out to end the inning.
"Every inning it seemed like they had a situation to score," Bucci said. "It felt like we never had an easy inning."
The longest WPIAL title game since 1975 was decided in the ninth when Hopewell pitcher Stefan Mrkonja issued a bases loaded walk to Adam Thompson. The Vikings were retired in order in their final at-bat.
Mrkonja and Shane Martin had two hits apiece for Hopewell, which left 11 runners on base.
A WPIAL title might have eluded Hopewell, but the Vikings plan on making the most of their next opportunity in the PIAA playoffs. They followed each of their previous losses with wins.