By CHRIS MASS
CAMP HILL-South Williamsport experienced nearly every negative emotion there is as Everett began its latest comeback.
Disappointment, frustration, rage… put check marks next to all. When Karson Reffner hit a walk-off grand slam sadness was the final emotion, but time heals most wounds and eventually South likely will feel one emotion above all else when looking back up on its 2022 season-pride.
The Mounties came so far this year and made the second deepest postseason run in program history. Considering how steeped in tradition this program is, that is quite an achievement. For now, though, South is hurting after Everett scored five seventh inning runs and turned a one-run deficit into a thrilling 8-4 Class AA state quarterfinal win Thursday at Cedar Cliff High School. Everett (19-2) earned a spot in Monday’s Final 4 against Delone Catholic, while South finished its third district championship in four years 17-6.
“It always hurts when you don’t win that last one. If you don’t win it all, it always hurts but these guys came a long way. I’m very proud of the guys,” South coach Casey Waller said. “We had four great seniors (Grant Bachman, DJ Gantz, Landon Lorson, Ben Stoetzel) and we have a good group coming back so we’ll get back to it but it’s really tough right now.”
Everett rallied from a 3-0 deficit and tied the game with three runs in the fourth before South went up 4-3 in the fifth inning when Lorson hit a two-out triple and scored on Kaden Shay’s perfectly placed bunt single. It stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh and then some crucial missed opportunities, mixed with an atrocious missed call opened the door for Everett which soon knocked it down.
Ultimately, it all led to Reffner coming up with the bases loaded and one out and the game tied 4-4. The burly third baseman ignited the game-tying rally in the fourth with a lead-off single and one-upped himself this time, smashing the hit of his life. Reffner drilled a first-pitch fastball over the center field fence for the walk-off grand slam as Everett continued the greatest season in program history and won its second straight state tournament game in walk-off fashion.
“I knew I was going to get a fastball because he was struggling. I figured if I saw a fastball, I was going to swing hard. That’s what I got, and I swing hard,” Reffner said. “I can’t even explain it. I was very excited. I’m glad we pulled together as a team and came back to win this.”
It’s not the grand slam which bothers South as much as what led up to it. Everett’s first batter that inning struck out but reached first on a passed ball. South dropped a foul ball a batter later and he eventually came back from a 1-2 count and drew a walk. Instead of two potential outs, Everett had the winning runs on with no outs.
Those wounds were self-inflicted but the next one hurt the most because South could do nothing about it. Jaden Zinn was facing a 1-1 count when he squared up and clearly offered at a pitch which hit him. If a batter offers to bunt or swings at a pitch which hits him, it is a strike. The home plate umpire, however, awarded him first base and the call stuck after all four umpires conferred.
What should have been a 1-2 pitcher’s count now was a bases-loaded, no-out jam. If an out is recorded there, or a double play, the inning’s complexion would have been altered. That goes double when what could have been a flyball for a second out instead resulted in a game-tying sacrifice fly and just the first out.
“You have a four-man crew, and the guy goes to bunt and not one guy can get it right. I’m not making excuses; we may have taken the loss anyway but to have an outcome potentially come down to four umpires missing a call like that, which is pivotal, is unacceptable,” Waller said. “But I’m not taking anything away from them by any means. They deserve to win but you can’t have a four-man crew miss a call there and they get the bases loaded. It’s a whole different ball game.”
It was a scene similar to Everett’s bottom of the seventh inning against Portage Monday where some mistakes and some controversy were involved in their 4-3 win. Whatever the case, the warriors again found a way to win a big game in riveting fashion.
Having Monday’s experience also gave Everett some extra confidence entering that last at-bat despite Makai Day and Lorson limiting it to four hits through six innings.
“We didn’t feel as much pressure because we’ve already experienced it in the state playoffs. We were a little bit more relaxed and less tense because of that,” Reffner said. “I did think we were going to find a way. I didn’t have any doubt we would win. We play well together and I really like that. We play with a lot of enthusiasm.”
So does South and it showed in the top of the first as the Mounties started strong just as they did in Monday’s win against Holy Cross. Lorson walked, Shay (3 for 3) singled and Day followed with an RBI single. South then forced a throw to second and Shay stole home as it went up, 2-0.
Shay delivered again in the third inning after Lorson reached on an error and stole third. This time, he beat out an RBI single to the right side and gave South a 3-0 lead. Sid Grove’s two-run double and Dalton Shaw’s sacrifice fly tied it in the fourth and Everett pitcher Calvin Isminger settled in, striking out 10 in 6 2/3 innings.
Lorson and Shay came up big again, however, in the fifth inning. Lorson nearly hit a home run, tripling to the right-field fence with two outs. Shay then continued his fabulous postseason by pushing a bunt up the third-base line, hustling to first and beating the throw as Lorson scored. Shay was involved in all three South rallies Thursday and the sophomore finished his postseason 9 for 15 with seven RBIs.
“The guy at third (Reffner) made a heck of a play but Kaden beat it,” Waller said. “He did something good every time he was up.”
Day and Lorson also enjoyed tremendous postseasons, especially on the mound. Each won two games and earned saves. Day retired the first eight batters he faced and struck out six in four innings before Lorson slammed the door in the fifth and sixth innings after South regained the lead.
Isminger hit a one-out double in the sixth but Kayne Jones made a super throw and Gantz an alert tag to catch him trying to steal following an intentional walk. Lorson induced an inning-ending grounder a batter later.
Those were the kind of plays which defined South’s season. Nothing came easy with South playing one of the state’s most demanding Class AA schedules and conquering a District 4 field which featured three teams who won 19 games.
The ending was not what South wanted but what a journey it was.
“It’s been a long season; mentally exhausting but it’s been worth it with this group of guys,” Waller said. “I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
South 201 010 0-4 6 1
Everett 000 300 5-8 6 2
Makai Day, Landon Lorson (5) and Kayne Jones. Calvin Isminger, Karson Reffner (7) and Mason Klotz. W–Reffner. L-Lorson.
Top South hitters: Kaden Shay 3-3, 2 RBIs, R, 2 SB; Day 2-3, RBI; Lorson 1-3, 3B, 3R. Top Everett hitters: Reffner 2-4, GS, 4 RBIs; Isminger 2-3, R; Sid Grove 1-2, 2B, 2 RBIs, R
Records: Everett 19-2. South 17-6.
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