HERSHEY — While a series of closely timed rallies drew much of the attention following Mifflinburg’s come-from-behind 12-4 victory in Monday night’s Pennsylvania American Legion Division II title game, there was plenty more that merited a look.
Plenty more that enabled Shawn Cooper’s club to shrug off an early deficit and storm back to knock off two-time defending champion Hamburg in what appeared to be easy fashion — even though it wasn’t that simple as the drama played out.
While the top three hitters in Mifflinburg’s lineup — Eric Zimmerman, Reed Wagner and Michael Warren — were mighty productive once they figured out Hamburg starter Jarod Sterner, everyone who came to bat made some sort of tangible contribution.
Granted, Zimmerman, Wagner and Warren totaled nine of Mifflinburg’s 15 hits, scored five of its 12 runs and shared 10 RBIs, but five others collected hits against Sterner and reliever Austin Gromlich before the post-game celebration.
Denzel Sampsell singled twice, while Josh Foster, Bryce Koonsman, Tony Bennage and Ethan Hoy added one knock apiece. Back-to-back singles in the second inning from Sampsell and Koonsman sparked Mifflinburg’s first scoring threat.
Two innings later, Mifflinburg finally cashed in.
“Hitting’s contagious, once it started,” Cooper said Monday night while standing in left field — in front of a scoreboard still showing Mifflinburg’s decisive result in bright red numbers.
Even the bottom third of the batting order — Bennage, Hoy, Colin Miller and Gavin Enders — accounted for two hits, six runs scored and one RBI. Enders’ bases-loaded walk in the top of the fourth was what finally put Mifflinburg on the board.
Mifflinburg’s victory was clearly a collective effort.
Miller, Enders and Zimmerman were on base in the pivotal fourth, and quickly reached top-end speed when Wagner gapped a triple to left-center that put Mifflinburg in front to stay.
“The roar from our dugout was deafening,” Cooper recalled, citing the reaction when Wagner’s sizzling line drive found a hole. “I was standing at the corner of the dugout and there was just so much energy in that dugout.”
Yet as productive as the Mifflinburg attack proved to be, Cooper’s club also played sound defensively — even though a throwing error in the third inning played to Hamburg’s advantage as the Berks Countians’ built a 3-0 lead.
Pitching also played a prominent role in Mifflinburg claiming its first state title — only three Division II tournaments have been contested, but Hamburg and Mifflinburg have been involved in all three — as Allen Stamm and Zimmerman yielded just six hits.
Stamm issued walks in the first two innings — and he hit one batter — but Hamburg failed to cash in despite having three runners in scoring position. Eventually, Hamburg posted three runs in the third on a suicide-squeeze bunt and Sterner’s two-run knock.
By the time Stamm handed the ball to Zimmerman — Stamm struck out two batters and conceded three hits — Mifflinburg was up 5-3.
“Once they got the three-run lead, we just stayed focused and went out there and had the big, five-run inning,” Cooper said. “Things fell into place. Getting three huge innings from Allen Stamm (really helped), and we knew we had Zimmie coming in to close it up.”
Zimmerman yielded three hits and one sixth-inning run while striking out one batter and hitting another during a 54-pitch outing. Of the other 11 outs Zimmerman recorded, three were on ground balls to Wagner at short, one to Hoy at second, and another when a charging Warren’s strong throw from third base beat the runner at first on a bunt attempt.
The other six outs came on infield pop-ups and outfield flies.
“He doesn’t really strike out a lot of guys, so we know we have to play defense,” Wagner said. “Once we put up those runs, we knew we had to keep going because we knew they were going to hit him and we’d have to play some defense. And we did. We kept putting up runs and that’s how this ended.”
When Zimmerman was able to get Brady Adams on a pop-up to Hoy at second to end the game, he soon was in the middle of a crowd as the entire Mifflinburg team rushed the mound to celebrate the championship they’d finally won ... together.