Five starters, including two dominant pitchers, graduated. Williamsport had made two errors and watched a four-run lead disappear while not playing anything near its best baseball against an undefeated team.
And yet the Millionaires found a way to edge Jersey Shore, 6-5 in eight innings last Monday. Williamsport improved to 5-0 and is quickly showing that while many of the names have changed, the results have not.
Such is life at Williamsport. One of the state's premier baseball programs, Williamsport has missed the postseason only once in its 28 seasons. So while good players graduated, there were plenty of up and coming athletes waiting to take their places. Now it looks like a cycle of excellence might be continuing.
"It shows that all three (JV) teams have produced good players," catcher Joe Cassidy said. "It shows that everyone who plays there is ready to come up and do well."
Coach Dave Cipriani said following the Jersey Shore game that Williamsport did everything it could to lose the game. Despite all that, the Millionaires won when Sadiq Burkholder drilled a two-out, walk-off single. A sign of a good team is being able to win games, especially against outstanding opponents, when it is not hitting on all cylinders. That Williamsport did so is promising, especially with several tough games looming, including two Central Penn League contests this week.
"It says that we can fight. It shows we can stay in no matter whether having a good day or a bad day," said Burkholder, who went 3 for 4. "I think the teamwork pretty much shows on the field."
Williamsport has not overpowered the opposition, but has received strong pitching from several players, holding its first four opponents to eight combined runs. The offense has not yet matched last year's firepower, but struck out fewer than 10 times in the first four games combined. When Williamsport has needed some big hits it has received them as well, Burkholder showing that against Jersey Shore.
That game might have offered a glimpse of how this season might play out. Williamsport is a young team and mistakes are going to happen. The Millionaires made some bad plays early, but a perfect relay play from Sisto Campana to SamVanDeLinde to Cassidy and a beautiful stop by shortstop Sam Booth an inning later prevented Jersey Shore from taking a lead.
The good has trumped the bad so far. Not everything has been pretty, but the Millionaires keep winning.
That is the Williamsport way.
MASH UNIT: Speaking of things not changing, Muncy has had no better luck than last year when it comes to injuries. A year ago injuries decimated Muncy's pitching staff early in the season. This year, returning pitcher Logan Daley was injured after passing out in class March 26 and injuring his head. Tim Colburn, an infield anchor at shortstop, injured his rotator cuff 11 days ago at Canton and can not pick up a baseball for three more weeks, although he can serve as a designated hitter.
Daley was the team's starting second baseman last year and projected starter for 2012, so Muncy coach Chris Persing has had to try and build a new middle infield on the fly. Doing so also means Persing has to juggle the rest of his fielders and slide them around. It is not an easy task, but the Indians are 6-4 and won two straight before losing to South Williamsport Saturday.
"We're trying to find some guys in some spots and break some guys into positions they haven't played since Little League," Persing said. "I think we're going to be all right. When after game 7 you're trying to find a new middle infield it makes it challenging but the guys are responding real well. To win two out of three here in four days, I'm real pleased. We just have to keep getting better."
Muncy can take some comfort knowing that after last year's 6-4 start, it jelled and played its best baseball, winning 14 of its next 15 games while capturing the District 4 Class A championship and reaching the state semifinals. A bonus is that young players like freshmen Kenny Koch are getting a chance to shine early. Koch is 2-1 on the mound and also is a good catcher, allowing Muncy to play last year's catcher Dawson Fox in different positions and take advantage of his versatility.
Nothing has come easy in this season's first half, but Muncy traditionally vastly improves as the season progresses. If that happens again, the Indians will look back at the early-season adversity as simply a bump in the road.
"I know it sounds cliche, but it's the truth: all we can do is control what we do, get better every day, compete every game and if you do that good things will happen," Persing said. "You just have do that and stay positive with it."
EXTRA BASES: St. John Neumann freshman Ryan Reid has made a big early impact. Reid threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout in a 3-0 win over CMVT last Thursday and is 2-1. His only loss came when Muncy scored two unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh of a 4-3 victory. ... Wellsboro (3-0) looks primed to win the NTL-West, winning its two league games by a combined 39-0 last week. Brandon Grinnell highlighted the week when he threw a five-inning no-hitter in an 11-0 win over archrival Mansfield. ... Hughesville's Justin Lambert has not started a game on the mound yet, but is tied for the area lead with four wins. Lambert has picked up four wins in late-inning relief roles, helping the Spartans start 6-1.
1. SOUTH?WILLIAMSPORT (9-0)--Mountie pitchers and hitters are helping each other. The offense has been the area's best thus far, averaging 13 runs per game and scoring at least two runs in the first inning of every game. The pitchers have allowed only four earned runs and frequently have given batters a quick opportunity to get up again. Alex Carpenter and Brandon Gantz are 4-0 and 3-0, respectively and they combined to allow only three runs in wins over Hughesville, Montgomery and Muncy last week.
"Alex and Brandon have done a whale of a job," coach Shawn Finn said. "I'm very excited with the pitching right now and when you can shut a team down right after you score three or four runs it just makes the offense a little hungrier to go out there and keep producing runs."
2. Williamsport (5-0)--Burkholder and Cassidy were two of seven players who had at least one hit against Jersey Shore. An added plus was that six hits came from batters Nos. 6-9.
"Everybody one through nine can hit the ball hard, even the pitchers if they get the chance," Cassidy said. "We've had a good run, but this (Monday's hard-fought win) could be the best thing to happen to us."
3. JERSEY?Shore (7-2)--Sandwiched between walk-off losses to Williamsport and Milton, Jersey Shore defeated defending HAC-I champion Montoursville, 4-1 as Tellef Notevarp pitched a four-hit complete-game. Jersey Shore missed a chance to pad its HAC-I lead Friday when a 6-3 sixth-inning lead turned into an 8-7 loss at Milton. Coach Matt O'Brien said afterward his team did not practice well Thursday so a loss like that could be a wake-up call, especially since Milton (3-2) is a threat to Jersey Shore as it tries defending its District 4 Class AAA championship.
4. LOYALSOCK (7-1)--Outside South, no area team has played better the last few weeks than the Lancers. Loyalsock has won seven straight, outscoring the opposition, 99-30. The Lancers trailed Bloomsburg and Central Columbia, 4-0 and 3-0, respectively last week before coming to bat, but won both games, 18-3 and 11-5. Loyalsock is hitting well throughout the lineup and has topped 10 hits in all seven wins. Pitcher Ethan Moore is 3-0 and freshman Kyle Datres pitched six shutout innings against Central in relief.
5. MONTOURSVILLE (3-2)--After being dormant for four games, the Montoursville offense finally broke out Friday against Midd-West. Sophomore Quintin Kuntz went 4 for 4 as the Warriors won, 14-4. Montoursville has strong pitching and if the defense and offense continue to progress this young team can make noise as the season progresses. Christian Clark scattered five hits in six innings against Jersey Shore and held the Bulldogs to their lowest run total this season.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK--Jimmy Webb, Loyalsock: The freshman outfielder is one of many underclassmen shining early and went 5 for 8 with eight RBIs in two wins. Webb homered and hit two triples and has the kind of speed to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples.
GAME OF THE WEEK--Loyalsock at Hughesville: One of the area's best rivalries is renewed Wednesday at Bodine Park and has big HAC-II implications. Both teams are...Loyalsock and Hughesville split last year's season series with both games being thrillers.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com