HERSHEY – Hamburg’s stranglehold on the Pennsylvania American Legion Division 2 State Tournament is finally over.
One day after suffering its worst loss of the season, Mifflinburg Post 410 played perhaps its best game of the year when it mattered most against the two-time defending state champs.
A bases-clearing triple by Reid Wagner gave Mifflinburg a two-run lead in the fourth inning, and Post 410 never looked back in taking a 12-4 victory over Hamburg at Hershey’s Memorial Field.
It’s just a little slice of redemption for Mifflinburg (19-2), which fell to Hamburg in the previous two Division 2 state tournaments.
“Absolutely, we felt going home (after a 6-1 loss to Hamburg on Sunday night), here it is - Hamburg again - and we got to beat them to be the state champs. So it was redemption, absolutely,” said Mifflinburg manager Shawn Cooper.
“(Sunday’s game) was one of the worst we played all year long, and that’s what we told the boys (Monday). We played our worst and Hamburg played a great game. We’re not playing another stinker (Monday) and Hamburg will really have to play a great game in order to beat us – redemption.”
Hamburg temporarily put a kink in Mifflinburg’s efforts on Monday by taking a 3-0 lead in the third on a suicide squeeze bunt laid down by Owen Zimmerman before Jarod Sterner lined a two-run single to left with two outs.
Mifflinburg’s players didn’t let that deficit get them down. Instead, they reacted the way any championship team would in that situation.
Beginning with Denzel Sampsell’s leadoff single to left, the bases soon became loaded when Tony Bennage singled and Colin Miller walked.
Gavin Enders drew another walk to plate Sampsell with Mifflinburg’s first run and get the comeback underway. Moments later Wagner drove a double into the gap in left-center to clear the bases and give Post 410 a 4-3 lead.
“It was a first-pitch curveball. I saw the spin coming in and it was on the outside corner, and I went right with it into the gap. Oh, I love doing that on the first pitch and hitting it right above the shortstop and into the gap, and it scored all three,” said Wagner, who received the game ball following the win. “I knew once I did that – we could do it, we could do it – we could keep putting up runs, keep putting up runs, and we did.”
Post 410 wasn’t done in the fourth after Wagner’s hit as Michael Warren followed with an RBI single to push Mifflinburg’s lead up to 5-3.
“We got down three runs, and that wasn’t going to bother the kids. They were not going to be denied this title. There was just no way, even with the three-run deficit,” said Cooper.
“Reid is mister clutch. He has been our best hitter for the last 2-3 years. He’s the team leader and he’s the older guy on the team, and in a spot like that we got exactly what we expected from him – a big hit – because that’s what he’s done time and time again, but never on this big of a stage.”
Mifflinburg’s bats kept going in the fifth in the form of an RBI single by Eric Zimmerman, a squeeze bunt RBI from Wagner and a two-run single from Michael Warren that resulted in a 9-3 lead.
“My first at-bat I swung at a terrible pitch and I had to make up for it. I did my best to see better pitches and just drive them somewhere,” said Warren. “The win feels awesome. We came close the last two years, and to finally get it is satisfying.
“It definitely takes the pressure off when you put up a five-spot, and it kind of gets us loose and we play better loose,” Warren added.
“The old saying – hitting is contagious. So once we started pecking away like that and we got Hamburg’s pitcher in a little bit of trouble – he labored out there,” said Cooper. “Obviously, everybody just feasted off of that and it was like blood in the water. These guys just attacked, and it was a great feeling.”
Wagner later added a two-run double in the seventh and Josh Foster chipped in with a bloop RBI single to right that turned the game into a rout.
Wagner finished the game 3-for-5, was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle, and he drove in six runs and scored two more to lead Mifflinburg.
Warren also finished the game 3-for-5 and had three RBI, plus Zimmerman went 3-for-5 at the plate to go along with three runs scored, two stolen bases and an RBI from his leadoff spot.
“I’d be lying if I said this didn’t feel pretty good, but it’s kind of like a fairy tale ending. It’s just kind of surreal right now,” said Zimmerman, who played his final game in a Mifflinburg Legion uniform along with Wagner, Foster, Bryce Koonsman and Garrett Becker.
“We’ve played a lot of ball together as a team, and to have (the season) turn out like this is just awesome,” added Zimmerman. “We started off the tournament strong. We had a little bit of a rough game (Sunday), but I honestly think we came back (Monday) even more confident, and I think that is what helped us have a great game.”
And despite the departures of the five aforementioned players, manager Cooper will bring back a ton of experience and some key younger guys like Allen Stamm, who stepped up and pitched the first three innings before giving way to Zimmerman in the fourth.
“(The pitching situation) couldn’t have worked out any better for us. We knew we had to throw Stamm, and we were hoping we would get three innings from him, because Zimmerman would have to be the guy (to win it),” said Cooper. “What kind of pressure do we want to put on Stamm – he’s a 15-year-old kid? Do we want him to try to hold a 3-2 lead in the sixth or seventh, or do we want him to start and go out and give us 2-3 innings and don’t worry about giving up some runs, because we have Zimmerman to come in and lock it down. It was perfect.
“This is unbelievable. I don’t know if I’m going to sleep at all tonight,” added Cooper. “The work and effort that was put into this by the whole community - these kids started playing ball together years and years ago in travel ball, and this is a culmination of all their hard work. All the parents, all the expenses and all the traveling – this is a complete team family and community effort right here, and I couldn’t be prouder of these boys and I couldn’t be happier.”
PA American Legion Division 2 State Tournament
At Hershey’s Memorial Field
Mifflinburg 000 540 3 — 12-15-1
Hamburg 003 001 0 — 4-6-2
Allen Stamm, Eric Zimmerman (4) and Josh Foster. Jarod Sterner, Austin Gromlich (6) and Gromlich, Brady Adams (6).
WP: Zimmerman, LP: Sterner.
Mifflinburg hitters: Reed Wagner, 3-for-5, double, triple, 6 RBI, 2 runs scored; Michael Warren, 3-for-5, 3 RBI; Zimmerman, 3-for-5, 3 runs, 2 stolen bases, RBI; Denzel Sampsell, 2-for-5, run; Tony Bennage, 1-for-1, walk; Ethan Hoy, 1-for-1, 2 runs, walk; Bryce Koonsman, 1-for-4; Gavin Enders, 2 walks, 2 runs, RBI; Colin Miller, walk, 2 runs.
Hamburg hitters: Austin Gromlich, 2-for-4, run scored; Colby Gromlich, 2-for-3, double, run; Reece Adam, 1-for-4, double, RBI, run; Sterner, 1-for-2, walk, 2 RBI.