HUGHESVILLE - Victory secure, Hughesville pitcher Justin Lambert pumped his fist and briskly walked off the mound as third baseman Jason Stroup approached. The happy teammates leapt against each other and Lambert inadvertently knocked down Stroup.
It was the only thing Hughesville did wrong over the final four innings against Montoursville.
Tyler Potts came off the bench to hit a three-run, go-ahead, fifth-inning double, Lambert pitched 4 2/3 innings of terrific relief, and the defense made repeated big plays as Hughesville erased a six-run deficit and downed Montoursville, 8-7, Saturday at Bodine Park. The Spartans (9-2-1) scored eight fifth-inning runs to turn a 6-0 deficit into a two-run lead and earned a signature win against a tradition-laden program they had not beaten since April 24, 2005.
"This is one of the best wins I've ever been a part of, especially against Montoursville," said Potts who went 2-for-2 in the eight-run fifth. "I don't even remember the last time we beat them so it's a great feeling."
The win was as frustrating for Montoursville (5-5) as it was exciting for Hughesville. The Warriors scored five third-inning runs and led 6-0 entering the bottom of the fifth with pitcher Andrew Null carrying a one-hitter and having retired 10 straight. Twelve batters and seven hits later Hughesville led and was on its way to earning a win that could provide a huge boost as it pursues its first district championship.
The Warriors were left scratching their heads after losing their third consecutive game for the first time in eight years. Null had retired 10 straight entering the fifth but everything unraveled for Montoursville after Levi McCarty hit a routine lead-off flyball that was dropped.
"We dropped one flyball and it was just an emotional breakdown by everybody after that. One dropped flyball and everybody just stopped believing that we could win," Montoursville coach Travis Wurster said. "The mental toughness has to get better and it's hard because you can't coach that. You can make them run as much as you want, but they have to have that will to want to be tough and to want to be better."
Hughesville showed plenty of that as Potts immediately pounced on the opening, hitting a pinch-hit single. Lambert followed with a single and it was Kyle Bomboy's two-run, pinch-hit single that really started changing everything, putting Hughesville on the board. Jason Stroup, Jesse Hulien and Brady Kimble (2-for-3) followed with RBI singles, cutting the deficit to 6-5 with one out.
Reliever Alec Rothrock recorded a strikeout, setting the stage for the game's pivotal at-bat. Potts fell behind 0-1 after taking what he described as a weak swing. Standing at third, Hulien shouted words of encouragement and Potts delivered, slamming the next pitch to the right-field fence, clearing the bases and giving Hughesville an 8-6 lead.
It was the latest clutch performance by an athlete who caught the game-winning touchdown pass against South Williamsport last fall with no time remaining.
"I hit it and I took off running and I was ecstatic when I saw it go over his head," Potts said. "I like making big plays. I don't always do it but it feels good when it happens. You just soak it in."
"Tyler didn't start the game, but he came up huge for us and had two big hits for us," Hughesville coach Casey Waller said. "He's a great kid. He works hard, he doesn't complain and that was huge for him confidence-wise."
Lambert ran into trouble the following inning, surrendering a lead-off single to Zach Pepperman but received a huge lift from sophomore catcher Brett Reitz who threw out pinch-runner Dalton Cristini trying to steal. How crucial that perfect throw against Montoursville's leading basestealer was became apparent two batters later when Rothrock crushed a mammoth home run down over the left-field fence and made it 8-7.
Pierce Ranck followed with a two-out single and Christian Clark walked. Null (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) had a great 11-pitch at-bat, fighting back from 0-2, but Lambert froze him with a 3-2 curveball and preserved the lead. The gutty sophomore, who has won five games in relief, clinched the win an inning later, inducing a game-ending fielder's choice with the tying run on base.
"I always want to go in and keep the other team at the same score they were at," said Lambert, who struck out four. "Once I get comfortable and get going I feel good. It's definitely one of the biggest wins over the year, especially when you beat Montoursville."
Hughesville played an error-less game and Stroup made a spectacular fourth-inning play when he was playing left field. Ranck drove a long shot that would have easily been at least a double but Stroup leapt against the wall and made the catch. It might not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but it ultimately saved a run since Clark followed with a single.
Those were the little plays that produced a huge win.
Montoursville015 001 0 - 7 11 1
Hughesville000 080 x - 8 8 0
Andrew Null, Alec Rothrock (5) and Dalton Young, Null (5). John Poust, Justin Lambert (3) and J.D. Sones, Brett Reitz (5). W-Lambert, (5-1). L-Rothrock, (0-1).
Top Montoursville hitters: Rothrock 1-3, HR, 2 R; Pierce Ranck 2-4, RBI; Null 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Young 2-4, 2 RBI; Zach Pepperman 1-1; Curtis Miller 1-1. Top Hughesville hitters: Brady Kimble 2-3, RBI; Tyler Potts 2-2, 2B, 3 RBI, R; Kyle Bomboy 1-2, 2 RBI; Jason Stroup 1-2, RBI.
Records: Hughesville 9-2-1. Montoursville 5-5.