UNIVERSITY PARK — The second time around, the same team finished on top.
Going well into the night Pope John Paul II locked up its first state crown in any sport, beating local rival Harriton 4-2 in the PIAA Class AAA Championship game on Friday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
“I’ve never been a part of a team like this, that got this far,” said Luke Deleo, who plated the title-winning run. “This was really cool.”
The game was a rematch of the District 1 title game 15 days earlier for two schools separated by about 20 miles — about 160 miles from State College.
In a game in which the first pitch wasn’t delivered until 9:42 p.m. — 3 1/2 hours behind schedule thanks to long earlier games and a rain delay — the Panthers finally got to celebrate when Dan Zurowski struck out Drake Friend to bring a pile of bodies on the field.
“Neither team is really known for its offense, it’s the pitching and defense,” PJP coach Kevin O’Brien said. “I’m just glad we had the composure.”
Deleo led the charge, going 2 for 3, scoring twice and putting his team up for good with a sixth-inning triple. James Bleming also was 2 for 3 for the Panthers (23-6).
Pope John Paul II starter Josh Lafferty put in a solid effort over 4 2/3 innings but got a no-decision, allowing just three hits and two walks. Lefty submarine pitcher Zurowski allowed the tying run to score, but ended with the win, striking out three, walking one and giving up three hits.
Corey Neel pitched a complete-game loss, striking out five and allowing six hits and two walks.
The chaos broke out in the bottom of the sixth. After two quick strikeouts, Sean Williamson hit a grounder to second base that was bobbled. After he was replaced by courtesy runner Eric Reed, Deleo belted a line drive to right that Joe D’Angelo misjudged and then he fell down. The triple brought home Reed, and the throw to third bounced away to bring home Deleo.
“I knew I had to make contact and make something happen big for the team,” Deleo said. “As I saw him fall, I was so full of joy and so happy. I saw the overthrow at third base and I was just pumped that I could score.”
“I’ll take it because it’s the state championship game,” O’Brien said. “But I feel bad that’s how they lost the game. You never want to see a game decided by that play.”
Harriton plated a run in the third when Grayson Anderson reached on a fielders choice, moved up on a ground out and scored on a Jimmy Bredt two-out single.
The Panthers responded in the bottom of the first when Deleo singled, was sacrificed to second and scored when Kyle Miller singled and center fielder Dre Pendleton sailed the throw all the way to the backstop. Miller then trotted home on a Bleming single.
Harriton tied the game in the top of the sixth when Jesse Bregman was hit by a Zurowski pitch with the bases loaded. The Panthers got out of further damage when Jake Rosenberg was caught trying to steal home.