As the 2006 season progressed, more and more Jersey Shore players wore "Weaver's Believers" T-shirts. First-year coach Shawn Weaver was not just trying to turn a program around, he was trying to change a culture.
Jersey Shore was coming off a seven-win season, had not won a playoff game since 2002, owned just one playoff win that decade and had not played in a district final in a long time. The Bulldogs almost always had good talent, but the records continued lagging.
The "Weaver's Believers," shirts were a nice look. It was actually getting the players to buy into what they said, however, that was most important. That is what happened following a 2-3 start and Jersey Shore captured the District 4 Class AAA championship while reaching the state quarterfinals.
Jersey Shore’s Chris Glunk delivers a pitch against South Williamsport earlier this month.
Just like that, everything changed. Ever since, Jersey Shore has been the consummate winner. Matt O'Brien replaced Weaver in 2009, but a new winning tradition continues thriving. Jersey Shore is the only District 4 team that has won a league and/or district championship every season since 2006.
The good times are continuing this year. Jersey Shore (9-2) has a solid shot at capturing its third straight district title. The Bulldogs are perched atop the district standings and are tied for first in the HAC-I. They sandwiched wins over Hughesville and Danville last week, around a 6-5, 11-inning loss to Williamsport, overcoming a two-run deficit against the Ironmen.
"Matt and (assistant coach) Ryan (Wyland) do a nice job with them," Hughesville coach Casey Waller said. "They are competitive every year."
Dr. Masse's Top 5
1. South Williamsport (9-0)
The Mounties are 9-0 for a second straight season and are riding a surge of momentum entering a pivotal week that starts today with a game at Hughesville. The current pitching staff combined for a few innings and no wins last year. That makes what Tyler House, Billy Rummings and Cody Nelson are doing especially impressive. House and Rummings are both 4-0 and have shined in all of their starts while Nelson has been terrific out of the bullpen. It helps too when the offense has scored five or more runs in every game. House is 11 for 13 in his last four games and catcher Justin Knee, headed to Air Force next fall, came up big in a 5-2 win over Shamokin.
2. Montoursville (7-1)
The Warriors have won seven straight and proved Friday that they can win the close ones too after having blown out six previous opponents. Pierce Ranck threw a complete-game five-hitter as Montoursville edged Milton 2-1. Ranck is 3-0 while Andrew Null is 3-1 and together those two have not allowed more than two runs in any of their last five starts. Null packs a big offensive punch too and hit his fourth home run in a 7-2 win over Bloomsburg. The lineup is deeper than it has been in recent years and the Milton game was just the second Montoursville did not deliver at least eight hits. Quinton Kuntz is having a nice season and went 2 for 2 against Bloomsburg.
3. Loyalsock (9-1)
It has to be nice to have the kind of athletic ability Roger Wilson does. The first team all-state center last winter is now making an impact after having not played high school baseball until this season. The senior pitcher threw four shutout innings in Friday's 11-1 win over Mount Carmel and also went 2 for 3 with a triple and three RBIs. Sophomore Tommy Baggett often flies under the radar but is one of the team's most valuable players. Baggett leads the team in RBIs and added two more against Mount Carmel. He also hit a key double in a 2-1 win over Danville.
4. Jersey Shore (9-2)
The Bulldogs showed some toughness bouncing back from a heart-breaking loss to Williamsport and coming back from two down to beat Danville less than 24 hours later. Those are the types of games they never would have won before Weaver's Believer's started changing everything. Christian Rishel is hitting as well as anyone in the area and is 14 for 24 in his last eight games.
5. Canton (13-0)
The Warriors are cruising toward District 4 Class A's top seed. Pitchers Garrett Wesneski and Chase Pepper form an outstanding combination and have combined to win nine games. Wesneski has an area-high six wins and Pepper won three games last week.
Players of the Week
Luke Glavin, Ethan Moore, Loyalsock
Glavin delivered a breakout performance, throwing a complete-game 4-hitter with 13 strikeouts in a 2-1 win over Danville. He grew stronger as the game progressed and struck out six of the final seven batters he faced. Moore threw a brilliant two-hit shutout Saturday against Lewisburg as Loyalsock won 2-0. The right-hander struck out nine, threw just 82 pitches and extended his scoreless innings streak to 12.
Game of the Week
Loyalsock at South Williamsport
Any time these two rivals play it is fun. Both programs are two of the district's most tradition-laden and so often their games have big ramifications. Friday's is no different. South leads Loyalsock by one game in the HAC-II and this game could go a long way in determining league supremacy. Jersey Shore is at Montoursville Friday in a game with similar HAC-I implications but has to settle for the undercard this week. But what an undercard it is.
Veteran-laden or young, Jersey Shore keeps producing outstanding teams. The Bulldogs have won at least 13 games every season since 2006 and set a program record with 18 wins last year when they again reached the state quarterfinals. Only Loyalsock has won more games than Jersey Shore, which is 27-5-1, the last two seasons.
What changed more than anything, starting in that 2006 breakthrough season was a mindset. Jersey Shore players did not hope to win anymore. They expected to do so. Seven years later, that remains unchanged.
"Coming into the season Coach told me I had the possible talent to play on the varsity team," freshman pitcher Travis Bradley said following five shutout innings in the 7-0 win at Hughesville. "That really got me excited because I knew that if we keep playing and winning like we have been we'll definitely have a chance to play at Bowman Field. That would be awesome experience."
Jersey Shore has played at Bowman Field every season since 2006 except for 2010 when it won its fourth straight league championship. Why the Bulldogs have been so successful was evident in that Hughesville win. Bradley and Hamm combined on a five-hitter, the defense played an error-less game and eight players produced 12 hits.
"We pitch to contact and that's something that Weaver taught and we teach," O'Brien said. "We take pride in running the bases fairly well and playing good defense and having good pitching."
Being deep helps, too.
Two reserves delivered hits against Hughesville and O'Brien believes he basically has 19 starters, not nine. He has used different lineups throughout the season and has watched several different players come through at key times.
"It's tough when you carry 19 kids and only have nine spots but the kids do a good job preparing every single day for whenever their moment comes," O'Brien said. "If you see this lineup card come districts it won't be the same. We're trying to get the kids to believe that and that's the hardest part but they do a good job coming off the bench and being ready to hit."
Believing has becoming the Jersey Shore way. Weaver's Believers basically started a baseball revolution at Jersey Shore. The team is loaded with talented underclassmen, too. The good times could continue for years to come.
Hughesville coach Casey Waller first watched Mitch Potter do good things against his teams at Loyalsock. Next he watched Jake Potter perform well against his Hughesville squads. Now it is Colton's turn to carry on the Potter tradition - and frustrate Waller along with many other opponents.
Colton, a junior shortstop, has established himself as one of the district's best all-around players the last few seasons. He continued giving Waller's team problems Tuesday, going 3 for 3 with a three-run double and a walk. He also played an error-less game at shortstop, while helping turn a double play. Waller is looking forward to when the last Potter son graduates but he respects him a lot.
"I've always been a huge fan of Potter. He's an outstanding player," Waller said. "It's in the bloodlines with him."
Mitch played at Jersey Shore from 2006-08 and helped the team win that breakthrough district crown along with two league championships. Jake started at second base from 2007-10 and was instrumental to the team winning four straight league titles. Both were outstanding fielders, hitters and leaders.
Colton shares all those qualities. The three-year starter has great range and good hands at shortstop and also is one of the team's most consistent hitters. The Hughesville game was the third time in five games, he delivered at least two hits. He added two more Friday against Danville.
A year ago, Colton was a first team HAC-I all-star and helped Jersey Shore reach the state quarterfinals. He is doing all he can to help Jersey Shore build on that success. It is that desire to improve, the commitment to the team and the toughness he displays that Bulldog coaches like even more than the statistics.
"I always ask his dad if there's any more of them," O'Brien said. "Colton is a pleasure to coach along with a lot of the kids. He plays the game the right way. He does so many things for us and means a lot to the team."
Sullivan County starting 0-3 seems like a long time ago. The Griffins (8-4) have won eight of nine since then and highlighted that run with a dramatic 9-8 win over Southern Columbia last Thursday. Sullivan scored three two-out runs in the bottom of the seventh to avenge a prior defeat. The Griffins belted 17 hits in that game, the sixth time in nine games they produced at least 10.
Sullivan has a good core back from last year's district semifinalist that came within an out of beating state finalist Montgomery in districts. One reason it might have started slow is because four starters were on the basketball team that reached the state tournament's second round and thus had limited preseason practice time. But since getting a breakthrough 2-1 win at Muncy, the Griffins have been rampaging and hitting well throughout the lineup.
Following that Muncy win, coach Walter Tubach said he wanted this team to be the first in program history to repeat as a district qualifier. That is looking like a near-lock at this point. And at this rate, Sullivan looks like it could be a serious title contender once there.
Williamsport (8-4) had a solid week, rallying from down three to beat Jersey Shore in 11 innings before thumping St. Mary's, 7-1. The Millionaires have allowed two runs or fewer in three of their last four games and the offense delivered a season-high 15 hits against St. Mary's. Muncy is hitting its stride. The Indians (8-4) have won four straight and blanked 2012 Class A state finalist Montgomery, 5-0, Friday. Muncy snapped a three-game losing streak against its rival as Kenny Koch built on his stellar sophomore campaign, throwing a 4-hit shutout. The Indians had 19 hits in two wins last week and senior Dawson Fox is 10 for 13 during the winning streak ... Hughesville (5-5) bolstered its playoff chances and broke out offensively Friday, erupting for 17 runs in the fifth and sixth innings while downing Lewisburg, 17-1. Sadiq Burkholder threw five strong innings and also went 4 for 5. It might have been just the boost Hughesville needed entering a big stretch of key games.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse for more baseball information.