Justin Hilton and Scott Grove both shined while playing collegiate baseball at Mansfield University. Hilton was the consummate player while there and at Montoursville. Grove became the standard by which all area high school baseball coaches were measured from 1988-2007 when he won more than 300 games, 10 district championships and two Eastern Region championships.
Both Hilton and Grove also left legacies that go beyond the baseball field and the lives they positively influenced is enough to fill a baseball stadium. It seems fitting then that both will be honored on an annual basis starting June 1 when the First Coaches/Seniors vs. Cancer Baseball Game is held at Bowman Field.
Coaches from 13 District 4 schools will be competing against senior all-star players from those 13 schools when the inaugural all-star game is held that night with first pitch at 7 p.m. The players' MVP trophy is named the Justin Flannery Hilton Award and the Coaches' MVP is named the Scott Grove MVP Award. Seeing those awards will be one of the highlights in a game that could be one of the year's most entertaining.
"We sat down and thought about the MVP Awards and figured it was a no-brainer. We talked to both sets of families and both have given us their blessings and we're excited about that," Committee member and Hughesville assistant coach Jake King said. "It's a nine-inning game but it might be longer than a normal nine-inning game because we want to do some presentations between innings and want to honor certain people in certain ways and we want to give those people a platform to do that."
King and fellow Hughesville assistants Mike Earnest and Corey Twigg developed the idea of a District-wide all-star game that would generate money for the American Cancer Society last fall. They, and many others, have been hard at work since, not only setting up the game, but also lining up sponsorships, getting others involved and doing fundraising.
The 13 teams involved are: Jersey Shore, Williamsport, South Williamsport, Loyalsock, St. John Neumann, Montoursville, Hughesville, Muncy, Montgomery, Milton, Central Columbia, Warrior Run and Danville. They will use lavender bats, the color chosen to represent all cancers.
Dr. Masse's Top 5
1. South Williamsport (5-0)
The rain finally slowed South down but not before it pounded Warrior Run, 15-3 last Monday. The Mounties are starting the way they did last year when they reached states for the first time since 2002, doing so despite losing six starters. South has scored 57 runs in five wins and has come back from three and two-run deficits in the last two. Second baseman Nick Mistretta has nicely bounced back from an injury-plagued sophomore season and went 3-for-3 against Warrior Run while Anthony Caruso and Zach Welter provided protection behind all-state first baseman Ryan Orgitano, going 4-for-5 with two doubles and three runs. South has a good test today against Montgomery.
2. Montoursville (5-1)
Outside South, no district team is hotter than Montoursville right now. The Warriors have won five straight, outscoring opponents 57-4 during that span despite having not played a home game. Montoursville looks more deep offensively than in any year since 2006 and reserves are making an impact when called upon in addition to the starters. The Warriors have 51 hits during the win streak and the pitching has been equally impressive. Pierce Ranck took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of a 9-2 win over Mifflinburg while Teigan Herlehy and Ryan Mondell combined on a 10-1 win over Midd-West. Zach Pepperman and Derrick Evans were a combined 7-for-12 with 4 RBIs in those games while Andrew Null hit his second and third home runs against Midd-West.
3. Loyalsock (5-1)
The Lancers are struggling in some areas but are still 5-1. They feel like the best is yet to come.
"It feels good, but we know we have a lot more to have to get developed," Webb said. "We have to get our swings down and get the bats going. Once we do that we'll be a tough team to deal with."
"We just keep telling guys to battle," Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. "Continue working hard and doing things the right way and good things will happen. That's kind of where we're at at this point."
4. Williamsport (4-0)
It has been like spring training all over again at Williamsport. The Millionaires still have not played a game in Pennsylvania and are hoping to play for the first time in 18 days today at Central Mountain. The home opener has been rained out twice and Williamsport is hoping to play that Wednesday against Danville. It will be interesting to see how the Millionaires play after such a long layoff.
5. Jersey Shore (4-1)
The Bulldogs played only once last week, but made it a good one, defeating Milton, 7-3 in a rematch of last year's District 4 Class AAA championship. The two-time defending champions broke a three-way tie for first in the HAC-I and now are tied with only Montoursville. Pitcher Chris Glunk battle through a hip injury to throw 5 1/3 strong innings and is off to a great start. Glunk is 2-0 with a 0.45 ERA and has struck out 21 in 15 2/3 innings. Shortstop Colton Potter has a team-high six RBIs and catcher Christian Rishel is hitting .500.
Player of the Week
Zach Meyer, Sullivan County
The standout basketball player also is a good baseball player. Meyer was at the center of Sullivan's four-win week. The senior pitcher won his second and third straight decisions, throwing two complete games. He also was an offensive force, going 8-for-16, belting three doubles and driving in 10 runs. Meyer has helped Sullivan (5-3) win five straight and the Griffins have scored 52 runs in their last four.
Game of the Week
South Williamsport at Jersey Shore
Friday's game features last year's HAC-III champion vs. the HAC-I champion. Both are league and district title contenders again and both showcase the depth of quality teams playing in Lycoming County. This should be a fun one and could come down to the final inning or beyond.
After hitting a lull last winter, things are picking up and King believes their goal of raising $50,000 is reachable. At 5 that night, district coaches will compete against the players in a home run derby. It's a fascinating matchup between those who coach the game and those who play it. The battle for bragging rights should be both intriguing and intense.
A baseball auction also will be held during pregame festivities. Small items will be auctioned off on the concourse level while large items will be auctioned off on the field.
Former Williamsport coach Dave Cipriani will coach the players and Warrior Run assistant Scott Snyder will manage the coaches. The committee is selecting 25 players with 15 alternates, essential since those players picked who are competing in states will be unable to participate. Getting everything organized as June 1, with a rain date of June 2, rapidly approaches is difficult with teams staring at backlogs of games. Still, those who are rivals right now are uniting to make sure this is not a one-year event.
"We're excited to be able to bring the community together for this event. That's big thing for us," King said. "To be able to do it at Bowman is going to be very exciting because the stage there will be good. The umpires and other coaches like Shawn Finn and Matt O'Brien are helping out a lot too. Usually we're on the other side but now we're all on same team which is pretty neat."
The Crosscutters are lending a hand as well and will handle all concessions, freeing the committee to focus on other details. Those who want to know more about the game or who want to donate to the cause can visit the web site at www.cvsfc2013.com. King also can be reached at email@example.com.
The driving force for all those involved is raising money and making this an annual event that will grow stronger every year. Nearly everyone involved has been impacted by cancer in some capacity and all want to try and help eradicate the disease.
The game is the fun part. The motivation behind it is the most important aspect.
"This is a start. This is a fun, entertaining night and even if you're not a baseball fan you can come out and enjoy the evening," King said. "Everyone on board is working hard and pushing as hard as they can. We're just trying to do everything we can to raise money to honor those we've lost and to honor those who are fighting right now."
And one has the feeling that come June 1, Hilton and Grove will be smiling down on Bowman Field.
PLENTY OF TIME
Hughesville did not expect to start the season 1-3, but it is not panicking. The Spartans dropped a 6-4 decision to Loyalsock on Thursday, the second straight game in which the winning run was scored in the sixth inning or later. Hughesville has plenty of potential and has two standout pitchers in Sadiq Burkholder and Justin Lambert.
The offense has been slow to get going, but once it does, the Spartans have the pitching and defense to be especially tough. The Spartans entered the season expecting to compete for a district championship. The slow start has not diminished those expectations either.
"We're trying to figure out some things and hopefully be out there at the end," Hughesville coach Casey Waller said. "We're not worried about it. I feel we'll get 10 games. I know it doesn't look like it now but we just have to get to the playoffs and we just have to keep improving."
Zack Clark and Robbie Klein had big weeks, helping Loyalsock defeat both Hughesville and Central Columbia, another title contender. Klein has become a nice threat while hitting cleanup for the first time. He went 2 for 2 against Hughesville while also walking twice. Clark went 3 for 3 with a double and a walk.
The bonus there is that that duo hits behind Kyle Datres and Jimmy Webb, two Division I recruits who are still trying to get going. If Clark and Klein keep producing and Datres and Webb heat up, Loyalsock could be especially potent.
"They're both hitting the crap out of the ball," Webb said. "That gives us a lot of confidence hitting in front of them because we know when we both get on base they're going to hit us in."
Clark also is performing well on the mound. The senior came on strong late last season and that has carried over. He earned both wins last week and struck out eight in five solid innings against Hughesville.
"Clarky is a gamer," Webb said. "He doesn't get rattled anymore. "He has grown out of that and he has really stepped into the leader role on the team."
Muncy pitcher Kenny Koch has been dominant early this season. He leads the area in strikeouts and was brilliant Saturday, throwing a complete game, six-hitter in a 3-1 win over previously undefeated Bloomsburg. Koch struck out 15 for a second straight game and has allowed just 11 hits in 18 innings while striking out 40 ... Montgomery junior Marcus Bartlett has done a nice job in his first year starting. He improved to 3-1 with a complete game, five-hitter in a 7-2 win over St. John Neumann. Bartlett is tied for the area lead in wins and has become a strong No. 2 starter ... Despite that Montgomery loss, Neumann is off to a solid start despite losing six starters from last year. The Knights (3-3) thumped Millville, 13-0, last Monday and are ahead of last year's pace when they were a strike away from reaching the district semifinals. Freshman Nick Grieco won his second game that day and fellow freshman Isaac Beiter went 3 for 4.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter for more baseball information at @docmasse.