Bellefonte pitcher Cooper Funk scooped up a handful of dirt in the final inning and took a moment to survey the plate — right before retiring the side and shaking off his glove to properly celebrate Monday’s win.
His teammates sprinted to meet him near the mound, moments after the 8-3 victory over Red Land in the Section 4 Little League Baseball Tournament. They patted Funk on the back, congratulating him on a complete game and a home run, and he smiled right back.
Bellefonte is now just two wins away from the state tournament, and it will play Hollidaysburg at 6 p.m. Tuesday on Montresor Field. A loss means the end of the season.
“It was all about Coop today,” Bellefonte manager Duane Grove said with a laugh, after tossing a gameball Funk’s way.
Funk kept Red Land’s batters guessing with a 1-2 punch of a fastball and slow-moving curveball. He scattered seven hits but walked just one batter and hit another. He struck out four and, backed by solid defense, tossed 81 pitches.
Red Land’s manager said his team has seen plenty of curveballs in the past — but Funk’s was unique. And his team just couldn’t adjust.
“It’s almost like an Eephus pitch; it just floats there,” manager Jim Janovich said. “When you’re expecting this fastball and all of a sudden you see this thing floating — it’s tough. The pitcher had an outstanding game.”
Funk boasted plenty of run support right off the bat.
With two outs in the top of the first — and with base-runners on the corners — Bellefonte’s Tristan Woodring-Heckman got the scoring going by crossing the plate on a wild pitch. Dominic Capperella then smacked a two-run homer right in front of the American flag in left-center, and Kaden Clark followed that up two batters later with his own two-run shot.
Bellefonte led 5-0 after the first inning and never looked back. It nursed, at minimum, a three-run cushion the rest of the way.
“That was my first really good hit in like a week,” Capperella added, “so it felt good.”
Funk didn’t even need a visit to the mound Monday. He remained calm throughout all six innings and didn’t seem to tire, despite pitching on a humid evening that prompted the field’s young announcer to throw back several Dr. Peppers.
Funk also placed plenty of trust in his defense. Quinn Tooker might have robbed a home run with one outstretched grab in the outfield, and Capperella made an impressive diving catch in center.
“When he’s on, he’s hard to hit,” Grove said, referring to Funk. “And tonight — well, defense helped him; he left a few curveballs hanging — but he he did well.”
Funk punctuated his night in the top of the sixth with a two-run homer. That essentially put what was a three-run game out of reach.
Because Funk threw so many pitches, he won’t be eligible to throw again until the state tournament, which begins July 23 in Fleetville. His manager already told him, if the team makes it that far, he’s earned a start.
First, Bellefonte needs to get past Hollidaysburg. And Funk and his teammates are setting their sights high.
“Hopefully, we can match what the best team in Bellefonte Little League history did and win the state title — and hopefully make it farther than that,” Capperella said. “As long as we keep winning.”