Hughesville baseball coach Casey Waller spends his weekdays teaching health at Loyalsock.
That might be a blessing, too, because Waller knows all about dealing with stress. When it comes to his team's games, Waller has endured a lot of stress since the Spartans consistently have played from behind.
As stressful as those situations might be for Waller, his coaching staff and Hughesville fans, the players almost always stay calm. The Spartans do not try and fall behind early but they do not panic when it happens either. And that is a huge reason they find themselves owning an impressive 9-2-1 record. More impressive than that record is that Hughesville has come from behind to win seven of those nine games.
"All season long we've been coming back," second baseman Tyler Potts said. "We're just calm. We don't get too upset. We make plays when we have too. That's what we do."
They do it well and that was most evident Saturday against Montoursville. Hughesville turned a 6-0, fifth-inning deficit into an 8-7 signature win. The Spartans beat Montoursville for the first time since 2005 and scored eight fifth-inning runs and made a series of huge defensive plays.
Hughesville lost a heart-breaker to Loyalsock two weeks ago and tied Jersey Shore in 13 innings 10 days ago. The Spartans had shown they could play with some of the area's perennial best teams, and now they know they can beat them, too. Credit their resiliency for helping make that so.
"Once Hughesville figures out that we can compete against the Montoursvilles and Loyalsocks and Jersey Shores that's huge, and we can," Waller said. "Our baseball instincts have to get better, but we need to be hungrier than the team we're playing and to be able to come back down six against Montoursville is going to give us some confidence. We could have folded it in down 6-0, but they battled back and it was a total team effort."
That is what might make Saturday's latest comeback even more meaningful. This was not a case of a team riding a dominant pitcher to a win or a single batter going off and driving in most of the runs. This really was a team effort in which more than 10 players made positive impacts.
When Hughesville staged its fifth-inning rally, Potts and Kyle Bomboy helped ignite it, coming off the bench to deliver key hits. Potts hit the go-ahead, three-run double and reserve catcher Brett Reitz threw out a Warrior trying to steal the following inning, meaning Montoursville could only pull within one when Alec Rothrock homered two batters later.
Justin Lambert threw 4 2/3 innings of outstanding relief, winning his fifth game in that role. He is part of a deep pitching staff that also includes Scott Myers, John Poust and Josh Saar. All four have delivered clutch performances in comeback wins and different hitters up and down the lineup have delivered timely hits to either ignite comebacks or cap them.
Hughesville lost some outstanding players from last year, including all-state pitcher/first baseman Brett Diehl, but is ahead of last year's win pace.
"Coach always says we're going to get guys in there that can get it done," Lambert said. "Even if that's a freshman or a sophomore that is coming off the bench I think all the guys on the team are all right with that because they know they'll get it done. They know it's what's best for the team."
Whatever the situation, whoever is called upon, this team believes it can win. When it's stressful for everyone else, it seems to be ideal for this gutty team.
Montoursville finds itself in unfamiliar territory. The Warriors are in the midst of their first three-game losing streak since 2004 and suddenly find themselves on the playoff bubble entering a huge three-game week. Montoursville has won three district championships and four league titles since 2006 and made the playoffs every year this century.
"The past couple years we always started off 8-1, 8-2 and kind of cruised into playoffs. Maybe this is good for us," coach Travis Wurster said. "Maybe this is a wake-up call because we have a team that can produce runs and we have a team that is a lot better than we're playing."
The Warriors started 2-2 but appeared to right the ship when they won three straight games and blasted District 4 Class AAA title contender Milton, 12-2. Last week, though, they went 0-3 and lost 8-4 to Milton before squandering the 6-0 lead against Hughesville. It's not panic time yet, but games with Shikellamy, Selinsgrove and Jersey Shore are certainly much more meaningful than they looked at this time last week.
Shikellamy and Selinsgrove also are fighting for playoff spots so Montoursville is in for battles against those rivals before Friday's game against the HAC-I-leading Bulldogs.
"If we're going to struggle I'd rather struggle now and peak when we need to peak and if this team peaks we're going to be very good," Wurster said. "We have all the potential in the world. From one through nine we have good hitters who can put the ball in play, but we just have to piece it together. We could be a really tough out in the playoffs, but right now all that matters is getting the next game."
St. John Neumann had only nine players Wednesday against Muncy and appeared to be in serious danger when Joe Villella was hit in the wrist with a pitch. Villella fought on and so did Neumann tying the game after trailing 5-0 only to lose 8-5. The Knights are fighting long odds as they do every year, but are playing teams tough and should not be counted out of the District 4 Class A playoff race yet.
Neumann (4-8) has its work cut out over the next few weeks but is capable of beating all three teams on its schedule this week and if that happens, the Knights are right back in the mix. Basically, every game is a playoff now. That Neumann is even thinking playoffs, though, shows how far this team has come the last few years.
"Fundamentally they're better. They have some real good individuals, they put the bat on the ball and they make you make plays," Muncy coach Chris Persing said. "It started about three years ago when (Brock) Danneker and (Doug) Hasko were sophomores and they had Bobby (Falk) and those guys. There were no gimmees."
Neumann has lost three close games to Muncy and Montgomery, last year's district finalists, by six combined runs while also defeating Southern Columbia. It used to be a victory if Neumann could avoid being mercy-ruled but nothing comes easily against the Knights these days.
"They've improved a lot," Muncy pitcher Skylar Ebner said. "They're pretty tough."
Montgomery (12-1) certainly is not hurting for pitching. Four-year starter Garrett Shnyder pitched a brilliant four-hit complete-game and struck out 12 in a 4-1 win over Muncy on Friday. He has struck out 27 in his last two outings. Alex Worthington (4-0) pitched a two-hitter against Sullivan County, snapping the Griffins' five-game winning streak. Worthington has allowed three hits in consecutive complete-games. And it also does not hurt Montgomery that Kyle Russell is tied for the area lead in wins with five.
Dr. Masse's Top 5
1. South Williamsport (12-0)
The Mounties keep on pounding their HAC-III opponents, winning two games by a 23-1 margin last week. South has outscored nine league opponents, 113-15, and can clinch the championship if it wins its next three games, starting today against Sullivan. Senior Brandon Gantz has been outstanding at the plate and on the mound. He pitched a four-hit complete-game against Neumann and went 3-for-3 with a home run against Benton.
2. Williamsport (7-2)
Williamsport's Central Penn League repeat championship hopes took a big hit Saturday when St. Mary's turned a 3-0 sixth-inning deficit into a 4-3 win. The Millionaires are 2-2 in the league with two games remaining and need a lot of help just to have a shot. Williamsport has lost two straight and is struggling a bit offensively. Nothing gets easier this week either with games against Northeastern, Mifflin County and DuBois, who are a combined 23-6.
3. Jersey Shore (9-2-1)
Tellef Notevarp is establishing himself as one of the district's best pitchers, throwing a five-inning perfect game against Selinsgrove in a rematch of last year's District 4 Class AAA championship. Notevarp has thrown 10 consecutive scoreless innings against Selinsgrove dating back to that game and is 5-0 with a 1.31 ERA. He also has wins over Loyalsock, Montoursville and Central Mountain. Jersey Shore is hitting .315 as a team and six players had at least two hits against Selinsgrove.
4. Loyalsock (11-1)
The Lancers have won 11 straight since losing to Jersey Shore in their season opener and are riding their longest winning streak since starting the 2009 season 14-0. Junior Zack Clark packs a wallop at the plate and also is starting to shine on the mound. Clark has won his last two starts, allowing only three hits and one run in 11 innings. Loyalsock has one of the area's deepest pitching staffs and Ethan Moore is 4-0, surrendering just one run in his last eight innings.
5. Hughesville (9-2-1)
The Spartans face two teams they rallied past earlier this season, playing Central Columbia and Shamokin this week. Hughesville overcame a big early deficit to beat the Blue Jays before scoring three seventh-inning runs and downing Shamokin, 4-3. The Spartans are one game behind Loyalsock in the HAC-II.
Player of the week
Tellef Notevarp, Jersey Shore
Unless you're the overrated 1972 Dolphins and played one of the easiest schedules in NFL history, it's hard to argue with perfection.
Game of the week
Montoursville at Jersey Shore
When these rivals collide there are usually league title ramifications since they have won or shared four league titles each since 2006. Montoursville is all but out of the title hunt, but Jersey Shore can take another step toward its fifth championship in six years if it completes the season sweep.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.