When John Poust crouched down behind home in the first inning Wednesday, it was the first time he had done so since Little League. All the senior did once there was play seven smooth innings and throw out two baserunners before hitting a go-ahead, two-run, fifth-inning single.
That is Hughesville baseball. The Spartans do not ask questions, do not let bad plays bother them and always believe they will win, no matter the circumstance. That was especially evident Wednesday at HAC-II champion Loyalsock.
Jesse Hulien homered, Poust's clutch hit capped a five-run fifth inning and Justin Lambert stranded the tying runners on base in the seventh as Hughesville won a 9-7 thriller and snapped Loyalsock's 14-game winning streak. The Spartans (10-4-1, 9-3) clinched their fourth consecutive District 4 Class AA playoff berth and ended Loyalsock's 19-game league winning streak.
"I think we're really on the path to success," said Hulien, whose fifth-inning home run sparked the five-run rally after Loyalsock built a 5-3 lead. "We don't like playing from behind, but we know what we have to do when we're down and we always seem to come back."
Who the district's best team is will be determined later, but Hughesville again showed why it might be the district's toughest team. The Spartans recorded their eighth comeback win as winning pitcher Scott Myers and Lambert scattered seven hits. Hughesville did the little things right when it had runners on base and players delivered in clutch spots at vital times.
Because of that, Hughesville has now beaten Loyalsock and Montoursville in the same season for the first time in more than 10 years.
"It was a great win for the guys, a great win for the Hughesville baseball program," Hughesville coach Casey Waller said. "They are believing they can compete with the better teams in the league and I was proud of the energy today. It was a total team effort."
Loyalsock scored four unearned, third-inning runs and took a 5-3 lead, but Hughesville shook off those miscues like a bee sting and never caved. Hulien worked back from an 0-2 count and crushed a one-out, fifth-inning home run over the left-field fence and from that point forward, both teams went in opposite directions.
Two ensuing Loyalsock errors put the go-ahead runs on base instead of ending the inning. Pinch-runner Kyle Bomboy scored on a wild pitch to tie it before pitcher J.P. Pawlikowski seemingly ended the inning with a two-out strikeout. Instead, the third strike was dropped and Lambert reached first. Poust then slammed his two-run single into left field and put the Spartans ahead to stay.
"I think that (home run) really changed the momentum. That really helped us," Hulien said. "I feel like when we're down and we know we have to do better we know what to do and we change it up and play as hard as we can."
Levi McCarty gave Hughesville a 9-6 sixth-inning lead with an RBI double before Loyalsock (14-2, 12-1) mounted another comeback. Kyle Datres led off the seventh with a single and scored when Jimmy Webb (3 for 3, 3 runs) sliced a triple down the right-field line. There were no outs and Loyalsock had the heart of its order coming up. It was a tense situation, but Lambert has thrived in those all year.
The sophomore right-hander struck out the next two hitters before Ethan Moore drew a walk. Lambert (5-1) then made a nice stop on a hard-hit Robbie Kline grounder back to the mound. He made the throw, ran off the mound and pumped his fist, another big win secured.
"Lambert is 15 and he's out there pitching and he's dealing," Waller said. "He has confidence out there on the mound and I'm proud of him and all these guys."
Loyalsock made five errors and a dropped flyball proved especially costly in the fifth inning. The Lancers also had two runners picked off and hardly looked like the team that had won 14 straight.
"We do not prepare our boys to play like that ever. We lost focus, we lacked mental toughness and we dropped the ball in every phase of the game," Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. "Guys were missing signs, we had attitude issues coming off the field and we lost all focus. I can deal with losing. I can't deal with losing that way. To play the way we played was unacceptable. It's too close to the playoffs and we have to pick it up now."
Hughesville021 051 0-9 8 4
Loyalsock104 010 1-7 7 5
Scott Myers, Justin Lambert (5) and John Poust. Luke Glavin, J.P. Pawlikowski (3), Ethan Moore (5), Zack Clark (7) and Bailey Young. W-Myers, (2-2). L-Pawlikowski, (0-1).
Top Hughesville hitters: Jesse Hulien 2-4, HR, 2 R; Levi McCarty 2-4, 2B, RBI; Myers 1-2, 2B, 2 RBIs; Poust 1-4, 2 RBIs. Top Loyalsock hitters: Kyle Datres 3 R; Jimmy Webb 3-3, 3B, 2B, RBI, 2 R; Glavin 3 RBIs; Phil Krizan 2-3.
Records: Loyalsock 14-2 (12-1 HAC-II), Hughesville 10-4-1 (9-3).