Before the season started, during open gyms and at tryouts, Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel established a goal for his new team.
Win the last game of the year.
“I kind of thought I knew what it meant,” senior Nick Jabco said. “But he came in as the new guy and I was like, does this guy really, does he think we’re going to make it there? I knew we were a good team and we were coming off a good year, but it was hard to believe.”
Fravel was talking about the state championship game. And the Red Raiders have a chance to win the last game of the year.
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Bellefonte (15-11) will face Susquehanna Township (19-8) in the PIAA Class AAA championship game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
“I don’t know why you would play the game if you don’t plan on winning every game,” Fravel said. “That’s just my mentality and it’s a compliment to them as a group. I’ve watched them play the last couple years. I knew that there was talented kids on the team and they know how to win.”
Storm Smith said it’s everyone’s goal to win the state championship.
But he said it’s unbelievable to be in this position.
“It’s a big thing to say,” Smith said. “It doesn’t really get tossed around that much. Here, it’s never been tossed around. No one’s ever made it to the state championship.”
The Red Raiders have a chance to win their first PIAA championship in baseball Thursday.
They started the year in those open gyms working on the “little things” that can win games. Bellefonte focused on first-and-third situations, worked on pickoffs and practiced bunting and defensive fundamentals.
But it didn’t translate early.
The Red Raiders struggled to a 1-7 start and weren’t thinking about winning the last game of the year.
“To be honest with you by 1-7, I was like maybe win the last game of the regular season,” Bellefonte pitcher Dom Masullo said. “That might be our best chance.”
Bellefonte found an effective lineup and turned its season around.
The Red Raiders started to believe they could achieve their preseason goal after their first postseason game.
Bellefonte scored eight runs in the first inning and rolled to a 12-2 win over Greater Johnstown in the first round of the District 6 playoffs.
Smith said he and his teammates knew they could win the district title after that game.
And for a moment, they thought about the state tournament.
“We came back on the bus and we all sat down and adrenaline was pumping and we just sat down and we all breathed and looked around at each other and said we might be one of the best teams in the state,” Jabco said.
The focus turned back to winning each game from there.
The Red Raiders captured the district title to earn a berth in the PIAA tournament.
And the “little things” have made a difference.
In a 2-1 win over Chartiers Valley in the first round, a sacrifice bunt set up Smith’s game-winning RBI single. In a 1-0 win over Cathedral Prep in the quarterfinals, Bellefonte pitcher Adam Armstrong stepped off the mound to gun down a steal attempt of third base with no outs.
A pair of infield singles preceded Smith’s two-run double in a 5-4, walk-off win over Hamburg in the semifinals.
Now, the Red Raiders are in the last game of the year with a chance to achieve their lofty preseason goal.
“If you don’t give the kids high expectations,” Fravel said, “they’ll never get there.”
PIAA Class AAA championship game
Bellefonte (15-11) vs. Susquehanna Township (19-8)
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Medlar Field at Lubrano Park
Susquehanna Township’s path to the championship: The Indians were the No. 7 seed in the District 3 tournament. They lost to Hamburg 9-3 in eight innings in the semifinals of the district tournament before beating Bishop McDevitt 5-4 in the third-place game. In the PIAA tournament, Susquehanna Township earned a 6-5 win over District 12 champion Archbishop Wood in the first round. The Indians then beat District 11 champion Palmerton 10-0 in six innings in the quarterfinals and edged District 2 champion North Pocono 1-0 in the semifinals.
Radio: WBLF 970
TV: PCN (Comcast chan. 22), tape delay, 6 p.m. Friday