The errors and runs piled up quicker than a dog chasing a bone. Rapidly a previously undefeated team looked grossly flawed.
On a sunny mid-April day in South Williamsport, Montgomery made seven errors and never had a chance in a 15-0 loss to the Mounties. On that day, the thought of Montgomery playing in a state championship seemed beyond far-fetched.
And yet, here the Red Raiders are, one of the state's only two Class A teams remaining. Here they are, Eastern Region champions for the first time. Here they are, one win from becoming the state's best team.
The record has been outstanding all year, but make no question, this has been a huge turnaround. And considering where this young team was that day in South, it has been a remarkable run to the state final.
"No matter what happens you just have to keep your head up, that's what we've learned," Montgomery center fielder Cameron McHenry said. "It's been a long season and it's helped a lot knowing that when you make mistakes you just have to keep your head up and keep going."
That is exactly what Montgomery did following the South loss. The Raiders played bad that day, but coach Tom Persing reminded the players it was simply that, a bad day and a bad game. There was nothing to do but push that loss to the side, focus on the future and get better.
That is what the Red Raiders have done, winning 14 of 15 games since while outscoring four straight playoff opponents, 21-1. Friday at Penn State, Montgomery tries capping this storybook season with a fairytale ending when it meets District 6 champion Bishop McCort in the state final.
"We put our time in at practice," shortstop/pitcher Alex Worthington said. "We do everything we can to get better and it's working out for us."
Still, Montgomery did not truly look like a team capable of doing postseason damage until it played its rematch against South. The Raiders lost to surging St. John Neumann the previous day and South entered 15-0. This time, the Raiders made all the plays and pitcher Garrett Shnyder started his dominant run by throwing a five-hit, nine-inning complete-game.
Montgomery overcame an early 1-0 deficit, never buckled as South constantly threatened and won, 2-1 when Cody Klees hit a two-out, walk-off single. Suddenly, a team that was starting to jell had something just as important going forward-belief. That win provided the year's turning point and, while others might have had their doubts, players and coaches believed something special was brewing.
"That was huge," said catcher Kyle Russell, one of only three seniors. "The game against South when we walked off gave us the confidence that we can beat anybody and play with anybody."
Montgomery has not lost since. A 12-day layoff between the regular season's conclusion and the district semifinals nearly doomed it against Sullivan County, but the resilient Raiders rallied to tie the game in the seventh before winning it in the eighth, 5-4. Since then they have excelled in all facets, shutting out Canton, Camp Hill and Lancaster County Christian, while edging District 11 champion Pius X, 2-1, in eight innings. That was the team's fourth walk-off win and drove home how confident this team remains no matter the opponent, no matter the situation.
"It's been heart. This team has a lot of heart," said Shnyder, who has thrown three consecutive postseason shutouts. "We hit the ball when we have to, we make plays when we have to and play solid baseball. You don't get beat when you play seven innings of solid baseball."
The team that made so many mistakes in its initial loss is now making so many outstanding plays. It is beating teams with talent, hard work and intelligence. It is doing all the little things right.
Montgomery does not overwhelm the opposition with a big offensive bopper but it executes well and has a lineup full of hitters who have delivered in clutch situations. Combine that with good baserunning, outstanding defense, brilliant pitching and strong coaching and you have one of the state's best teams.
Montgomery is experiencing the ride of a lifetime while becoming just the second team in its school's history to reach a state final. Their community is going ga ga for the Raiders and this team will forever hold a special place in its heart.
How they arrived at this level is a big reason why.
"You can't really tell anything until it happens," third baseman John Goetz said. "You can put a good guess out there but unless you put in the work, you put in the time it doesn't work out. It all comes down to what you decide to do as a team, as an individual and as a player."