By CHRIS MASS
CAMP HILL-South Williamsport experienced almost every negative emotion there is when Everett began his recent comeback.
Disappointment, frustration, anger… all ticked. When Karson Reffner hit a walk-off grand slam, sadness was the last emotion, but time heals most wounds, and after all, South will likely feel one emotion above all as he looks back on his 2022 season – pride.
The Mounties came this far this year, putting on the second-deepest postseason run in program history. Considering the tradition of this program, this is quite an achievement. Right now, however, South is hurting after Everett hit five seventh inning runs and turned a one-run deficit into an exciting 8-4 win in Thursday’s Class AA quarterfinals at Cedar Cliff High School. Everett (19-2) secured a berth in the Final 4 against Delone Catholic on Monday, while South finished its third district championship in four years 17-6.
“It always hurts when you don’t win the last time. It always hurts when you don’t win everything, but these guys have come a long way. I’m very proud of the boys.” South coach Casey Waller said. “We’ve had four great seniors (Grant Bachman, DJ Gantz, Landon Lorson, Ben Stoetzel) and we’ve got a good group coming back so we’ll get back to that but it’s really tough at the moment.”
Everett bounced back from a 3-0 deficit and leveled the game with three runs in the fourth before South took a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning when Lorson hit a two-out triple and on Kaden Shay’s perfectly placed bunt -Single met. It stayed that way until the end of the seventh, and then some crucial missed opportunities mixed with a horrific missed call opened the door for Everett, who soon slammed it shut.
Ultimately, it all resulted in Reffner showing up with loaded bases and an out, and the game tied 4-4. The burly third baseman ignited the game-changing rally in the fourth with a lead-off single and this time outdid himself and smashed the hit of his life. Reffner drilled a first-pitch fastball over the centerfield fence for the walk-off grand slam as Everett continued the biggest season in program history, winning his 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’d swing hard. I got that and I was swinging hard.” said Reffner. “I can’t even explain it. I was very excited. I’m glad we stuck together as a team and came back to win this.”
It’s not the Grand Slam that bothers South so much, it’s what led to it. Everett’s first batter, who knocked out the inning but got a pass ball first. South dropped a foulball a shot later and eventually came back from a 1-2 count and pulled a walk. Instead of two potential outs, Everett had the winning runs with no outs.
Those wounds were self-inflicted, but the next one hurt the most because South couldn’t do anything about it. Jaden Zinn faced a 1-1 count as he got up and clearly bid a pitch that hit him. If a batsman offers to bat or swing at a pitch that hits him, that is a strike. However, the home plate umpire awarded him first base and the call stood after all four umpires conferred.
What should now have been a 1-2 pitcher’s count was a bases-loaded no-out jam. If an out or a double play was recorded there, the complexion of the innings would have been changed. That’s doubly so when what could have been a flyball for a second out instead resulted in a game-defining sacrifice fly and only the first out.
“They have a crew of four and the guy goes too colorful and no guy can get it right. I don’t apologize; We may have accepted defeat nonetheless, but a result that potentially amounts to four referees missing such a call, which is crucial, is unacceptable. Waller said. “But I’m not taking anything away from them. You deserve to win, but you can’t let a crew of four miss a call there and they load the bases. It’s a whole different ball game.”
It was a similar scene to Everett’s bottom in the seventh inning against Portage Monday, where some mistakes and controversy led to their 4-3 win. Anyway, the Warriors found another way to win a big game in an engaging way.
Monday’s experience also gave Everett some extra confidence as he entered the final at-bat, though Makai Day and Lorson limited it to four hits in six innings.
“We didn’t feel that much pressure because we’ve experienced that in the state playoffs. It made us a little more relaxed and less tense.” said Reffner. “I thought we’d find a way. I had no doubts that we would win. We play well together and I like that a lot. We play with a lot of enthusiasm.”
So did South and it showed at the top of the first as the Mounties started strong, just as they did in Monday’s win over Holy Cross. Lorson walked, Shay (3 for 3) singled and Day followed with an RBI single. South then forced a throw into second and Shay stole home 2-0.
Shay delivered again in the third inning after Lorson made a mistake and stole third place. This time he hit an RBI single at right flank to give South a 3-0 lead. Sid Grove’s two-run double and Dalton Shaw’s sacrificial fly closed it in the fourth and Everett pitcher Calvin Isminger settled in and hit 10 in 6 2/3 innings.
However, Lorson and Shay came out big again in the fifth inning. Lorson almost hit a home run and tripled with two outs to the right fence. Shay then continued his fabulous postseason by pushing a bunt up the third baseline, rushing to the first and hitting the throw when 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 in third place (Reffner) made a damn good game, but Kaden beat it.” Waller said. “He did a good deed every time he got up.”
Day and Lorson also enjoyed great postseasons, especially on the hill. Each won two games and made saves. Day pulled back the first eight batters he faced, knocking 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 leg but Kayne Jones made a super throw and Gantz an alert tag to catch him stealing after a deliberate walk. Lorson later prompted a batter for an inning-ending grounder.
Those were the kind of games that defined South’s season. Nothing came easy as South played one of the most demanding Class AA schedules in the state, capturing a District 4 field in which three teams won 19 games.
The ending wasn’t what South wanted, but what a journey it was.
“It’s been a long season; mentally exhausting, but it was 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: reefers 2-4, GS, 4 RBIs; Isminger 2-3, R; Sid Grove 1-2, 2B, 2 RBIs, R
Records: Everett 19-2. South 17-6.