South Xtra: Perfection eludes South Park squad

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL/PIAA PLAYOFFS

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It was the type of moment that doesn't show up in the box score and typically goes unnoticed by those not involved, and it was taking place in the outfield at Pullman Park in Butler last Friday afternoon.

After seeing their season end -- a magnificent one and most successful in school history -- a handful of South Park players stood with tears in their eyes, as a perfect season and dreams of winning a state title had faded away.

The magnitude of what the Eagles accomplished this season won't disappear anytime soon.

South Park was defeated by Keystone Oaks, 3-0, in a PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game. The Eagles finished 25-1.

"I couldn't be more proud of our team," South Park coach Steve Bucci said. "We got contributions from a lot of guys this season. And those guys made history. Obviously, it's a shame for the season to end. We would have liked the storybook season to finish out. But they have nothing to apologize about."

Just more than a week earlier, South Park became the fifth team to win a WPIAL title with an undefeated record since the WPIAL expanded to more than one classification in 1979.

It was the first WPIAL championship for the Eagles, who had played in the title game one other time (2002). They went on to gain a win in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, giving the Eagles their second state tournament win in school history.

Even before the season, there were high expectations surrounding this South Park team, one that returned many of its starters from a squad that won 15 games and made the WPIAL playoffs the previous year.

South Park wasted little time showing this might not be just a good season, but an absolutely special one. One by one, the Eagles picked apart their opponents. They won their first seven games by at least seven runs and defeated all of their regular-season opponents by at least two runs. The Eagles finished the regular season at 20-0 and as Section 4-AAA champions.

Top-seeded South Park shut out each of its first three WPIAL playoff opponents: Yough, 10-0, Thomas Jefferson, 6-0, and Keystone Oaks, 1-0.

In the WPIAL championship game against No. 2 Hopewell at Consol Energy Field on May 28, South Park dug itself an early 3-0 hole, before tying the game in the fourth on Shane Fetsko's RBI single and Randy Dobnak's two-run home run. The game went to extra innings and South Park eventually claimed a 4-3 win when Adam Thompson drew a bases-loaded walk that scored Nick Yobbi in the ninth inning.

"They had a bull's-eye on their back for two months and they played in a lot of high stakes games," Bucci said.

South Park won yet another in its PIAA opener, overcoming a 3-0 first-inning deficit to defeat District 5 champion Somerset, 7-5.

Unfortunately, that proved to be the final win for this South Park team, which lost its rematch with Keystone Oaks. For the first time this season, South Park couldn't get its offense going against KO ace Jared Skolnicki.

"We had our chances, but we couldn't come through," Bucci said.

Bucci said he will miss an eight-player senior class that played a huge role in helping Bucci turn the program around when he arrived their sophomore season. The group comprises Yobbi, Dobnak, Jake Bywalski, Carter Grote, Chris Winkler, Justin Dilla, Mike Dice and Nick Comstock.

"[I'll miss] their love and passion for the game," Bucci said. "I was excited going to practice and just working with these guys every day."

As the dust settled from the season-ending defeat, Bucci looked around and saw dejected looks on the faces of players who had done some extraordinary things this spring. Bucci wasn't about to let one loss take away from the many wins.

"I saw some guys tearing up," Bucci recalled. "I told them, 'I can't thank you guys enough for all the work and all the wins you have racked up. I couldn't be more proud of you guys. You made history. You guys will be part of my life forever. We have a link here together forever.'"

hsbaseball


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