HUGHESVILLE - They hear the statement so many times, Loyalsock players can recite it. Every day, coaches drill into them how any play, any pitch can be the difference between winning and losing.
Right fielder Jimmy Webb could hear that mantra in his his head as he sprinted toward a sixth-inning Brett Reitz fly ball. The tying Hughesville runners were on second and third when Reitz hit the one-out blooper that looked like it might tie the game. Instead, Webb made a terrific, hustling catch in the tricky wind. He then made a precise relay throw to first baseman Zack Clark, who made a perfect throw home to catch Sadiq Burkholder trying to score.
It was the execution of those little things that made a huge difference. Webb's catch and throw helped Loyalsock hold on for an exciting 6-4 win at Bodine Park in what has become one of the district's best rivalry games.
"The coaches preach every little play matters a big amount and that happened at a key time," Webb said. "We practiced it a million times and we executed it perfectly."
Clark threw five strong innings to earn the win and also went 3-for-3 with a double. Kyle Datres threw two scoreless innings to earn the save, Robbie Klein went 2-for-2 and Tommy Baggett hit a sixth-inning grounder to drive in his second run and break a 4-4 tie in another exciting game between two strong teams.
So much happened in this latest matchup, but the sixth-inning Webb catch and throw stood out because the game could have went the other way had he not made it. Reitz put the ball in a tough spot to catch, down the line, in no man's land behind first base. It was a nice piece of hitting, but Webb quickly showed why he is a Division I recruit.
The sophomore utilized his sprinter's speed to chase the ball down, then positioned himself perfectly to make the cut-off throw that hit Clark chest-high. Clark wheeled and made a super throw home, hitting catcher Evan Moore in the numbers. The play was executed so well that Burkholder, Hughesville's fastest runner, was tagged a few feet from the plate.
Moments earlier, Justin Lambert had nearly hit a game-tying two-run home run, settling for a double that was kept in the park by the wind. Hughesville had all the momentum and in an instant, Webb, Clark and Moore stifled it. Datres then worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning as Loyalsock improved to 5-1.
"It got up in the air and it's tough to see with the screen. (Center fielder) Robbie Klein helped me out and told me where it was and got me set up," Webb said. "I just came through and fired it to Clark and he fired a perfect relay home."
Hughesville coach Casey Waller took responsibility for the play, saying he should not have sent Burkholder. The decision, though, was born out of respect for Datres more than anything. Datres went 9-0 last year and twice beat Hughesville, throwing gems each time.
"I made a bad call there and was trying to make something happen because with Kyle pitching you're not going to get many opportunities because he's one of the best pitchers in the district so I tried to take advantage of it," Waller said. "The guys competed and played hard. Loyalsock has a good team, a real solid team, and we came after them."
Hughesville scored three first-inning runs and Tyler Mitcheltree's two-out, two-strike, two-run single gave it a 3-1 lead. Burkholder threw five solid innings, striking out six while Lambert looked especially sharp in the seventh inning. The Spartans (1-3, 1-3) also played an error-less game.
Those are the things Waller is focusing on. Hughesville has a lot of potential that is not reflected in its record. Build off yesterday's performance and the Spartans know they can be where they want to be by year's end.
"It just wasn't meant to be, but we will build off this game," Waller said. "We can get better each day and I was proud of the guys' effort."
Clark struggled in the first inning, hitting two batters and walking another but he was solid after that. The senior right-hander struck out eight, worked well out of trouble and stranded seven runners in his five innings while winning his second straight against a 2012 playoff team.
"He went on Monday against Central and looked sharp and only threw 50 pitches so we went with him again and he started out a little sluggish," Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. "We kept him out there and he battled tough for us. He did a great job."
Clark also was big offensively and he and Klein sparked a two-run third inning that tied the game, hitting back-to-back singles before scoring on Ethan Moore's two-run single. Clark's 2-out double an inning later was followed by a Klein single and Loyalsock went ahead when pinch-runner Caleb Robbins scored on a wild pitch. Hughesville tied the game in the fifth when Jeremiah McCarty drew a two-out walk, stole second and came home on an error.
Loyalsock remained unfazed and mounted its game-winning rally immediately as Datres was hit by a pitch and Webb drew a walk. Clark moved them both with a deep flyball before Klein was intentionally walked. Baggett, the team's RBI leader with 15, hit a RBI grounder to make it 5-4 and Webb scored on a passed ball to add a valuable insurance run.
"We came in and in the huddle and Coach Eck basically told us we're going to win and we feed off him well," Eck said. "We went out and executed and we had good at-bats."
Loyalsock102 102 0-6 8 2
Hughesville300 010 0-4 3 0
Zack Clark, Kyle Datres (6) and Evan Moore. Sadiq Burkholder, Justin Lambert (6) and Lambert, Brett Reitz (6). W-Clark, (2-0). L-Lambert, (1-1). SV-Datres, (1).
Top Loyalsock hitters: Clark 3-3, 2B, R; Robbie Klein 2-2, 2 BBs, R; Tommy Baggett 2 RBIs; Ethan Moore 2-4. Top Hughesville hitters: Burkholder 2-4, SB, R; Lambert 1-3, 2B, R; Tyler Mitcheltree 1-2, 2 RBIs.
Records: Loyalsock 5-1, 5-1 HAC-II. Hughesville 1-3, 1-3.