Logan Mathieu can put on a show during batting practice.
The Bellefonte first baseman amazes his teammates with his ability to hit home run after home run with his swift and powerful left-handed swing.
“We stand at the fence to try to rob his home runs because he hits about eight every time he goes up there,” senior outfielder Nick Jabco said. “He’s an incredible hitter.”
Mathieu has been a crucial part of Bellefonte’s lineup during its run to the PIAA Class AAA championship game, going 10 for 20 (.500) and scoring three runs in six district and state playoff games.
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Mathieu and the Red Raiders (15-11) will take on Susquehanna Township (19-8) for the state title at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
With Mathieu hitting third in the lineup during the regular season, teams were pitching around him.
Mathieu said taking walks didn’t bother him.
“Getting on base, that’s my job anyway,” said Mathieu, who is hitting .376 with three home runs, 14 doubles and a team-high 19 RBIs on the season.
Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel then moved Mathieu to the No. 2 spot in the lineup at the start of the playoffs.
“It’s very hard to pitch around a guy when there’s no outs or one out because you don’t really want a guy on base,” Fravel said.
Though his home-run displays during batting practice are impressive, Fravel has stressed driving the ball into the gaps to Mathieu.
“We’ve made a rule a couple different days, you hit a home run, you’re done,” Fravel said. “But if you hit flat line drives, I’ll throw this whole bucket to you.”
Mathieu found the gap to spark Bellefonte in its win over Hamburg in the state semifinals.
In the third inning, he hammered a shot to right-center field for a double with one out. He advanced to third on a single by Jabco.
When Jabco stole second, he took off for home and scored on a headfirst slide to pull Bellefonte within 2-1.
“Coach told me to relax, he told me not to go, but I knew I could make it,” Mathieu said.
His teammates know they can count on Mathieu to produce.
He can hit any pitch in any location.
“He’s one of the best high school hitters I’ve ever seen in 20 years of coaching baseball down in Maryland or here in central Pennsylvania,” Fravel said. “It’s just a sweet, smooth stroke.”
Armstrong to miss title game
Fravel said sophomore left-handed pitcher Adam Armstrong missed Monday’s semifinal game and will miss Thursday’s championship game due to a school trip to Europe.
Armstrong pitched a one-hitter to lead Bellefonte to a 1-0 win over Cathedral Prep in the state quarterfinals.
Armstrong went 5-1 with a 0.74 ERA in 38 innings this season.
Armstrong, Dom Masullo and Kyler Mellott have combined to pitch every inning for the Red Raiders in the postseason. Mellott allowed two runs in three innings and Masullo gave up two runs in four innings in Bellefonte’s 5-4 win over Hamburg in the semifinals.
Outpouring of support
Before the team boarded the bus to leave Greene Township Park on Monday, Storm Smith was bombarded with hundreds of messages on social media.
By the time he got home, he had more than 150 notifications on Facebook alone.
Smith kept the Red Raiders’ season alive with a game-winning two-run double with two outs in the bottom seventh inning against Hamburg.
“I tried all last night to get through everything, but I had to go to sleep so I could get up in the morning,” Smith said. “I think I got to everyone, and if I didn’t, I’m sorry. I want to thank everybody I can, but it’s been crazy.”
Smith had to be up at 6 a.m. Tuesday to go to work at his summer job as a construction laborer. He started working during the state playoffs and has spent his time putting together and taking apart concrete forms.
“I have to go because it’s superstition,” Smith said.
The Bellefonte community showed its support beyond social media after Monday’s win.
The team received a fire truck escort into town.
Sirens blared as the Red Raiders made their way back to the school, where hundreds of people lined the street and waited in the parking lot to congratulate them.
“We were all thinking maybe our friends, maybe our families will show up but when we got here, like we said there were hundreds of people,” Jabco said. “It was awesome to feel the community wrap around us and just fully support where we’re going and what we’re doing. I don’t even think it’s hit us yet that we’re going to the state championship.”
Free admission for Bellefonte students
Fravel said Bellefonte school district students can go to Thursday’s state championship game for free, thanks to state senator Jake Corman.
Elementary school school students need to take a report card, and middle school and high school students need to have their school IDs.
Spikes to honor Red Raiders
The Bellefonte players have been invited to throw out the first pitch at the State College Spikes’ home opener against the Williamsport Crosscutters at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.
Each player will throw the pitch to his father or a person of influence in his life the day before Father’s Day.
Bellefonte is making its first appearance in a PIAA baseball championship game.
The Red Raiders are the first local team to play in the state title game at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, and they have the chance to become the third local team ever to win the state title.
Bald Eagle Area won the PIAA Class AA championship in 2007, beating Kutztown 6-1. State College beat Chambersburg 2-1 to win the Class AAA championship game in 1979.
State College lost 2-0 to Penn Manor in the PIAA Class AAAA championship game in 2005. State College also fell to Central Dauphin 15-4 in the Class AAA championship game in 1997 and lost to Boyertown 8-2 in the Class AAA title game in 1981.