BLOOMSBURG >> With a two-run single back through the box, Brady Adams capped a commitment borne of bitter disappointment suffered 13 months ago.
Adams’ base hit delivered Hamburg its first American Legion state baseball championship in 54 years Sunday afternoon at Central Columbia High School.
It capped a 13-3, 6-inning triumph over McConnellsburg Post 561, in Pennsylvania Legion’s first foray into Division 2 baseball, a format designed for smaller schools/territories. It has been implemented in other states — but here, Hamburg is its first champion.
The Reds swept through the three-day, four-team championship event unbeaten with a 3-0 record, duplicating their title performance at the Region 2 Division 2 tournament — one in which they hosted two weekends prior — to deliver state hardware back home for the first time since 1963, when some of their grandfathers were playing ball.
“It’s a goal we had set from the beginning of the year,” Hamburg manager Nick Evangelista said. “We had the team, we had the chemistry, we had the character and we had the ability. It’s something we worked on, something we talked about, every day, every pitch. And that’s what these kids did. They won every pitch when it mattered.
“These kids never surprise me. And this is what we expected. We expected to come up here and play our best and let the chips fall where they may. And we’d be tough to beat if we played our best.
“We believe in our philosophy and it’s something we don’t change. And we believe that we can win, regardless of talent. We believe that we can put them in situations to be successful. It’s a thrill and I couldn’t be happier for these kids.”
The Reds’ championship run this season had its germination after the Hamburg Hawks captured the District 3 Class AAA (former class system) title in June of last year, only to see their PIAA title run come up tantalizingly short at Greene Township Park in Chambersburg. One strike away twice from playing for the high school title, the Hawks let it slip away in heartbreaking fashion in the semifinals.
Those seniors on the field that day in Chambersburg 13 months ago, who had since graduated high school, made a commitment to the town’s Legion program to return and play it out to the very best of their abilities and see where it took them. It took them to the very top.
“We sat at a picnic table there, last June, after letting what we thought was one get away, and talked about this,” Evangelista said. “We’d have one more shot, in Legion, to do what we thought we were capable of doing. And they were all in, to a man.
“I told them (Sunday), ‘Let’s make history. Let’s go out and get something that we thought we let slip away last year. I know that was high school and not Legion, but a state title’s a state title.’”
Pa. Legion provided a bump this past offseason with the formation of a Division 2 postseason, with the expressed purpose of allowing smaller territories to compete on a more level playing field. As manager and director of the Reds, Evangelista enthusiastically hopped on board with the idea, committing Hamburg to D2 at the end of March.
“It’s the competition, for the size of school that we are, that we should be playing,” ace pitcher Ryan Smith said of the new D2 tournament. “It’s the same as high school. Once we heard the Legion system was gonna go to this, we were extremely excited, because we knew we’d have the chance to play schools that are our size. Sort of evening the playing field.”
Four months later, the bitter tears of that mid-June evening a year ago in Franklin County were washed away forever with a stirring romp through this summer’s Legion campaign.
Hamburg arrived to the state D2 tournament on Friday, where a nail-biting 1-0 win over Mifflinburg that afternoon ensured the Reds would make it through the winners bracket final on Saturday. There, a 5-2 victory over this same McConnellsburg squad earned the Reds a spot in Sunday’s championship round. As a true double-elimination, the prospect of a winner-take-all “if” game loomed Sunday evening had Hamburg not taken care of business in tidy fashion.
The Reds made sure that wouldn’t happen by plating nine runs during the opening two during frames against McConnellsburg, including a six-run second that backed starter Janson Youndt with a commanding 9-2 lead.
Youndt was happy to have it, after a shaky top of the third in which a pesky Post 561 loaded the bases with two outs and a run already in. He was able to get McConnellsburg’s Matt Brown swinging, however, to end the largest threat you’ll ever witness in a 9-3 ballgame.
“I would miss my locations, and then I would actually hit my location and they (McConnellsburg) would hit it,” Youndt said. “It got stressful. I just had to dig down. Our guys gave me a lot of run support. That strikeout was huge. It gave us the momentum back to put this away.”
Smith is aware of the local history the Reds made on Sunday, but admitted it hadn’t yet sunk in.
“I think when we look back on it in a couple of years, we’ll realize everything we did together, then it’ll sink in,” he said. “Right now, this is one of the most amazing feelings in the world.”