Hopewell survives roller-coaster Class 3A final, beats South Park for 4th WPIAL title

Wednesday, June 2, 2021 | 7:32 PM

Two years ago, the Hopewell Vikings coughed up a three-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning against Steel Valley in the WPIAL Class 3A championship game.

They weren’t about to do it again on Wednesday.

No. 3 South Park (15-5) tied the game in the top of the seventh inning at Wild Things Park in Washington and the No. 1 Vikings (17-5) began to have flashbacks to that game in 2019, but the ball was in their court this time around.

Junior center fielder Couper Stala, who finished 1 for 3 with two RBIs, got a hit to start off the frame and then stole second before advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt by senior shortstop Anthony LaSala. After the Eagles loaded the bases with intentional walks to Lucas Arington and Roman Gill, sophomore Ty Eberhardt came through with one of his biggest hits of the season, and it never left the infield.

Eberhardt poked an 0-1 pitch to South Park first baseman Luke Rider and beat the ball to first base by sliding through the bag to give Hopewell its fourth WPIAL championship and a 6-5 victory.

“I didn’t draw it up like that,” said Eberhardt, who went 2 for 3 and scored two runs. “But it was just put the ball in play, hustle to first base and win the game. That’s all I wanted to do.”

Singletary, who is in his first year as head coach, wasn’t there two years ago when the Vikings coughed up a late lead. But after seeing what his team had done all season long, he knew it was ready to come through in the big moment.

“We had some flashbacks to the game two years ago, but just going into that inning, we knew we had the top of the order, so it was just do what we had done all year long,” Singletary said. “Couper got on, which is exactly what we needed, got second base, and then we bunted him over to third, which is the situation we wanted to be in. We knew what we had to do there and they executed it. It got a little more exciting than I would’ve liked, but I’ll take it.”

Behind a solid game from Gill, who threw six-plus innings and only allowed five hits before exiting the game in the seventh inning, and a stellar defensive performance, the Vikings battled with the Eagles for most of the game.

Gill and South Park starter Zach Lemansky, who threw five innings of six-hit ball and allowed three runs, turned the matchup into a pitchers’ duel early as both pitchers kept their opponents off the scoreboard through the first five innings. Gill didn’t allow a hit until the third inning, and the Eagles didn’t plate a run until the sixth when Austin Lafferty came around to score on a Conner Klingensmith double to right field.

“(Gill) had a great game, and that’s a great hitting team,” Singletary said about his senior right-hander. “He shut them down, limited them to one-run, and he just got to the pitch count.”

The Vikings broke through in the fifth inning, and it was Eberhardt who got things started.

The designated hitter singled to start the inning and came around to score on Stala’s two-run single to break the scoring open.

Landon Fox then came around to score on a Lemansky balk to make it 3-0.

Hopewell struck again in the bottom of the sixth inning when pinch-runner Marshall Nock came around to score on a Luke Kerec RBI single. Eberhardt then scored on a safety squeeze to make it 5-1.

The South Park bats finally woke up in the top of the seventh inning as they drove Gill from the game after putting two runners on with a single and an error. Both runners came around to score on a throwing error at shortstop by Kerec.

Klingensmith, who went 2 for 4 with a double and three RBIs, struck again with a two-run single to tie the game at five. Although it reminded them of their loss two years ago, LaSala said that the Vikings were never nervous.

“There were definitely some flashbacks, but we finished it this time,” LaSala said. “We put in all the work in the weight room through the winter and the offseason practices. This is what we did it for.”

Gill pitched in the WPIAL championship two years ago and almost had the opportunity to bring it home for the Vikings on Wednesday night.

After a discussion with his staff, South Park coach Brad Shamitko decided to intentionally walk Gill as he settled into the batter’s box to get to Eberhardt, but Gill wasn’t worried.

“Right when Ty hit that ball, I knew he always hustles, he slid, and right when they called him safe, we tackled him and it was just a great feeling,” Gill said. “I loved it and it definitely helps after losing in 2019, that’s for sure.”

The Vikings will advance to take on the District 10 runner-up Monday in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A playoffs. South Park will play the District 6 champion.

Watch an archived video stream broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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