Montoursville coach Travis Wurster was not consulted concerning moving the Backyard Brawl from Bowman Field to Logue Field last week. Neither was Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck or South Williamsport coach Shawn Finn.
And Wurster does not care.
Like everyone affiliated with the Brawl, he hoped it could be played at Bowman Field. But what Wurster cares most about is that the Brawl is going on, period.
"I'd rather play in Lowe's parking lot than not play at all," Wurster said. "We preach to our kids don't worry about the things you can't control. With this, it was unfortunate and it stinks but we can't control it, so we'll play it anywhere. We're just excited we get to play against three of the better teams around here. We're excited because all the teams are good and anything can happen."
That is the case every year. All four programs are among District 4's most tradition-laden. All have won multiple league and/or district championships over the past decade and all have played in a state tournament within the last three years. And all four have won at least one Backyard Brawl in the last five played, Loyalsock taking last year's and Williamsport two of the last four.
"All four teams are playing well," Montoursville third baseman Ryan Mondell said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."
Dr. Masse's Top 5
1. Loyalsock (13-1)
The Lancers have been hit hard by injuries but have still won 10 games and seem to be starting to peak at a good time.
"We're going to find a way because of heart and desire and we want it," Eck said. "When one guy foes down, someone steps up. Thats what we're about."
Loyalsock won four games last week and has been receiving huge contributions from Robbie Klein and Phil Krizan. Klein has four multi-hit performances in his last five games. Krizan had seven hits last week and doubled and tripled against Loyalsock. He also fueled a comeback against Central Mountain, going 2 for 3 with three RBIs as Loyalsock turned a three-run deficit into a 7-5 win. Over the last two seasons, Loyalsock is 34-4.
2. South Williamsport (11-1)
The Mounties are tied for first in the HAC-II with Loyalsock and beat Hughesville and Lewisburg last week. They rallied past Lewisburg and showed their balance against Hughesville as every player in the lineup delivered a hit or drew a walk during a seven-run seventh-inning rally.
"It shows that we're pretty good all-around," left fielder Anthony Caruso said. "We're pretty well distributed with talent."
Caruso had a nice week, hitting well in all three games. The sophomore went 5 for 10 with four RBIs.
3. Jersey Shore (12-2)
The Bulldogs were the Comeback Kids last week, overcoming a 4-0 deficit to beat Midd-West before rallying from an 8-3 sixth-inning deficit and stunning Montoursville, 9-8. Jersey Shore avenged its only league loss against Montoursville and took a huge step toward winning its sixth league title in seven years. The Bulldogs can win at least a share of the HAC-I crown with two wins in their last three games and take it outright if they sweep them. Pitcher Travis Eiswerth was dominant, winning two games, throwing a 4-hit shutout against Mifflinburg and throwing two scoreless innings against Montoursville. Zach Miller had a big week, going 6 for 11 with a home run and four RBIs.
4. Montoursville (8-2)
The Warriors have the talent to win the Backyard Brawl, the question is will have the pitching depth? Montoursville plays five games this week and the first three are league games, including Friday against Danville. Andrew Null and Pierce Ranck are a combined 7-1, but could be limited or ineligible depending on how they are used in the three league games. Of course, Montoursville has proven it has the offense to win no matter who pitches. The Warriors have scored seven or more runs in eight of their last nine games and had 25 hits in two games last week. Ranck has been one of the area's best lead-off hitters and went 4 for 5 with six RBIs and three walks in those games.
5. Williamsport (10-4)
The Millionaires won three league games last week, including a 3-2 thriller Saturday at DuBois. Noah Esposito worked out of a bases-loaded seventh-inning game, saving the game for Gabe Rader (3-1). Williamsport's pitching has been outstanding and the staff allowed just four runs last week. Davey Ludwikowski has surrendered just one earned run in his last 10 innings and is one of six pitchers who has been effective this season. Esposito has been a key part of the team's resurgence. He went 3 for 4 in a 7-1 win over St. Mary's and also hit a 2-run double that paved the way to victory against Hollidaysburg.
Players of the Week
Kelby Mullen and Barry Heinrich, Sullivan County
The two seniors had huge weeks as Sullivan (11-4) continued playing outstanding baseball. Mullen went 8 for 10 two home runs and six RBIs while also earning the win in a 5-3 victory over Montgomery. Heinrich went 6 for 10 with three home runs and five RBIs as Sullivan earned three big wins over HAC-III leader Bloomsburg, Montgomery and Muncy. The Griffins have won 11 of their last 12 games and have pulled within two games of first in the HAC-III.
Game of the Week
(Excluding Backyard Brawl games)
Montgomery at St. John Neumann
Wednesday's game is an interesting showdown between teams fighting for playoff berths. The Red Raiders (9-7) turned things around Friday against Southern Columbia and Neumann (7-7) is trying to reach districts for a second straight year, something that has never happened there. Neumann split with Montgomery last year and the Raiders rallied past Neumann earlier this year.
The fun starts at 10 a.m. Saturday when Montoursville plays South Williamsport. Loyalsock and Williamsport play next with the consolation game scheduled for 4 and the championship for 6:30.
This could be the best Brawl in recent memory and outstanding cases can be made for all four teams winning it. The four enter a combined 42-8 and all are serious district title contenders.
South opened the season 11-0 and beat defending Brawl champion Loyalsock, 9-5, last month. Loyalsock has not lost since, winning 10 straight and exacting revenge Friday, downing the Mounties, 12-4. Montoursville had won eight straight before dropping a 9-8 heartbreaker to Jersey Shore on Friday. Williamsport (10-4) is playing some of its best baseball, winning four straight. The Millionaires have allowed two runs or fewer in five of their last six games and have one of the deepest pitching staffs around.
All four games were determined by three runs or fewer last year and it would be fairly shocking if any blowouts occur this year. The teams' records and traditions make the Brawl outstanding by itself, but there is something else that annually makes this one of the scholastic sports year's crown jewels.
The proximity of all four schools helps, but what really makes it special is how well players from all four teams know each other. They have played against each other since Little League and also have played together at times in various all-star tournaments. Familiarity can breed contempt and while many are friends off the field, that means they want to beat each other that much more on the field.
"The Brawl is always fun with all these rival teams," Loyalsock pitcher/shortstop Kyle Datres said. "You always know someone from every team, so it's always fun to play against your friends."
The venue might not be what most wanted, but the games should be great again and the atmosphere still electric. Once upon a time many of these current players sat in the stands, watching older siblings and/or friends playing in the Brawl, hoping that one day they could switch places and participate in such a marquee event. That chance comes Saturday.
"This is good for the surrounding communities and the young kids, especially," Wurster said. "I'm hoping the same amount of fans show up. I love seeing the Little Leaguers there thinking, 'I can't wait to do this.'"
This is a moment the players have been waiting to experience for so long. That question now is who will own it?
South's Justin Knee has never shied away from contact or danger. The senior catcher likes the action behind the plate and was a three-year starting center and linebacker on the football team while also reaching states in wrestling last winter.
On top of all that, Knee is a stellar student. He is a modern-day version of a renaissance man and is ready to use all those qualities in the Air Force. Knee has been accepted to the Air Force and heads to Texas in either August or September to start basic training.
Knee is planning on working as a tactical air control party specialist, a demanding job. The official Air Force Web site says it is one of few true front-line Air Force combat jobs. TACP specialists are known for their ability to bring overwhelming firepower to the battlefield via artillery and air strikes. It is a challenging endeavor but that is what Knee likes about it.
"Last year I decided I wanted to go into the military and help people and I decided the Air Force was the best way to do that," Knee said. "I just didn't want to do a simple thing in life. I wanted to be someone to really do something special. I want to try to bump rank as fast as possible."
Do not bet against that happening. Knee has worked his way up the ranks on three different scholastic teams and become a better player and wrestler each year. He carries a heavy workload but still trains at the YMCA daily getting ready to make his mark in the Air Force.
Before heading to basic training, Knee is hoping to help South capture league and district championships. He is having an excellent season and has developed into one of the best defenders around. Entering Friday's game at Loyalsock, he had thrown out eight of 12 runners trying to steal on him, including three in last Monday's 15-6 win at Hughesville.
Knee also has helped out offensively. Although he was a center on South's HAC-III championship football team, Knee can move. He can provide pop and also run the bases well.
"Justin is doing one heck of a job behind the plate this year," South coach Shawn Finn said. "He works and works. He was a spot starter last year and as a catcher was behind Kyle Eck the last few years, but he worked double time out there. I can't say enough about his work ethic this. He brings a lot to the table for all our guys."
And soon he will be providing a lot to the country too.
Hughesville is heating up. The Spartans (8-6) won three straight games last week and moved above .500 for the first time. The offense came to life later in the week and aces Sadiq Burkholder and Justin Lambert won all three games. Hughesville could be a dangerous lower-seeded team if it qualifies for districts ... Neumann pitcher Ryan Reid is having a strong sophomore season and continued it Friday, throwing a complete game five-hitter and striking out 12 in a 4-2 win over Benton ... Sophomore Marcus Bartlett has been one of the area's breakthrough pitchers. He is tied for the area lead in wins (six) and came up huge last Friday, throwing a complete game five-hitter in a 5-3 win over Southern Columbia. Montgomery (9-7) avenged a prior defeat and snapped a two-game losing streak while moving within a win of reaching districts ... Muncy's Dawson Fox has a seven-game hitting streak and is 16 for 23 during that time.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him for more baseball information on Twitter at @docmasse.