Storm Smith disappeared to the bottom of the celebratory pile.
The Bellefonte designated hitter had just lined a two-out, two-run double down the left field line to lift his team to a 5-4, walk-off win over Hamburg in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals and clinch the program’s first-ever berth in the state championship game.
Nick Jabco wrapped Smith up with a tackle reminiscent of their football days near second base at Greene Township Park. Their Red Raiders teammates soon followed to swarm the game’s hero. There was a lot of “incoherent yelling” by everyone as Smith experienced a range of emotions.
Smith called it the best feeling in the world.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“I’m all bloody,” Smith said, revealing a scrape on his elbow. “He had me bleeding. I couldn’t breathe under the pile, man. It was awesome.”
Bellefonte (15-11) will take on Susquehanna Township in the state championship game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The Red Raiders are the first Centre County baseball team to reach the PIAA title game since Bald Eagle Area in 2007.
Susquehanna Township beat North Pocono 1-0 on Monday.
Bellefonte’s Dom Masullo allowed two runs in four innings of relief to earn the win. Smith, Tanner Helms and Cade Fortney each finished with two hits for the Red Raiders.
With Bellefonte trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh, Helms and Fortney set the stage for Smith.
The Hamburg fans rose to their feet after Hawks pitcher Janson Youndt got back-to-back flyouts to start the inning.
Helms then sent a ground ball to third base and sprinted to first for an infield single to keep Bellefonte alive.
“When you’re running on the first base line with the season on your back, you can move pretty quick,” Helms said. “I beat that ball probably by like a step.”
Fortney followed with a chopper to shortstop for another infield single as Helms beat the throw to second.
That brought Smith to the plate.
He has been clutch throughout the postseason.
Smith drove in the go-ahead run with a double in the District 6 championship game against Hollidaysburg and drove in the game-winning run on a single in the first round of the state playoffs against Chartiers Valley.
“I wouldn’t have wanted anybody else up at that time,” Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel said.
With his teammates on first and second, Smith went into the at-bat ready to see pitches on the outer half of the plate. He fouled back a 2-2 pitch and took an outside pitch to work a full count.
Smith fouled off two more pitches before lining the ninth pitch of the at-bat down the left field line.
The senior thought he tied the game.
The second Smith made contact, Fravel decided to send Fortney.
“I don’t care how cleanly they field it, they were going to have to throw the ball 320 feet to have to get him out,” Fravel said.
As Smith rounded first, he saw Fortney rounding third to score the game-winning run.
The celebration began immediately.
Smith said he was overcome by emotion after the win.
“We’re going to a state title,” Smith said. “We’re going home.”
The Red Raiders had to rally to earn a spot in the title game.
Hamburg scored two runs against Masullo in the fourth to build a three-run lead.
With the bases loaded and one out, the Hawks’ Derek Roberts sent a ground ball to shortstop, and Bellefonte first baseman Logan Mathieu thought the Red Raiders turned an inning-ending double play.
He flipped the ball toward the mound, but the umpire called Roberts safe.
Hamburg’s Nick Kuhn already scored, and Mike Procak came around to score to push his team ahead 4-1.
Fravel delivered a message to his team after the inning.
“We just paused in the huddle there just to regroup (and) said there’s a lot of baseball left,” Fravel said.
Youndt replaced Hawks starting pitcher Ryan Smith at the start of the bottom of the fourth.
Youndt retired the Red Raiders in order in the fourth and fifth innings.
But Bellefonte recorded four hits in the sixth inning, highlighted by RBI singles by Fortney and Mark Armstrong to cut the deficit to 4-3.
Smith came through with two outs in the seventh to add another win to a memorable postseason.
“If I ever make it to 67 years old and I’m sitting there with my grandkids, this is the stories that I’m going to tell ‘em,” Smith said.