DANVILLE - Pierce Ranck took a few steps to the left of the pitching mound at Danville High School. He tracked the baseball in the air, simultaneously watching Montoursville center fielder Curtis Miller line up the ball and catch.
Ranck turned toward the Warriors' dugout on the first-base side of the field and gave a hearty fist pump which more closely resembled a Floyd Mayweather Jr. right hook. Miller's catch in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday evening sealed a tougher-than-expected 3-2 win over an Ironmen team eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.
It wasn't the kind of performance Warriors head coach Travis Wurster was hoping to see from his team with just a week remaining in the regular season, and it was something he and his coaching staff let the team know about in a lengthy postgame conversation in shallow right field.
But, as he pointed out, it was a win regardless of how Montoursville came about it. And it was a win in a HAC-I game the Warriors had to have if they're going to find a way to make up the one-game deficit they're facing in the race with Jersey Shore for the league title.
"A win's a win. We talked about that briefly, that it goes in the 'W' column. We also talked quite a bit with our guys about life lessons and not giving max effort is a life lesson," Wurster said as the lightning began to flash and the thunder began to crack just behind the field. "Whether you're s sports writer, or a baseball player or you're a guy working at a factory, if you don't give your 100 percent, you're not doing justice to what you're doing."
The life lesson was prompted after what seemed to be a hesitant offensive performance, with Montoursville scoring just the three runs and going 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Montoursville had Danville pitcher Kurtis Mordan, who was making his first start of the year after four relief appearances, on the ropes in the first inning. But Mordan wiggled out of the jam allowing just two runs despite throwing 40 pitches and just 17 for strikes.
Montoursville put two runners on base with a pair of walks to start the inning. Quinton Kuntz singled home one run before Zach Pepperman walked to load the bases with one out. Dalton Cristini was hit by a two-out, two-strike pitch to force in a second run, but that was all the Warriors got off of Mordan in the first inning.
Mordan worked out of the inning thanks to an infield pop-up, a strikeout (one of his nine) and a ground ball to second.
"Bases loaded with one out and up 1-0, you'd like to get more than just another run," Montoursville right fielder Aaron Cole said. "We just have to put the ball in play a little more."
"I know the kids are trying, but I think some of them are scared," Wurster said. "They're fielding the ball and not throwing it or not swinging at a pitch because you're afraid coach will be made at you. We have to get that out of our system."
It was Montoursville's best opportunity to get a big inning against Mordan because the Danville senior found something over the next 4 2/3 innings he didn't show in the first. Fifty-five of Mordan's final 90 pitches in a 130-pitch effort went for strikes. He retired seven in a row bridging the first through third innings and 12 of 13 from the first through fifth innings.
Mordan, who had been asking Danville head coach Devin Knorr to make his first start recently, pounded the outside corner with a solid two-seam fastball and would often extend the zone with a curveball on the outer half. Although the fastball was nearly overpowering, he kept a Montoursville offense averaging roughly eight runs per game off-balance with the breaking ball.
Mordan surrendered just five hits in his 5 2/3 innings and struck out nine. It helped counteract the five walks and one hit batter he allowed. Montoursville left nine runners on base, six in scoring position.
"We definitely went outside of ourselves. We didn't get that 1-0 pitch that we should have," Wurster said. "We were swinging at balls low and away and just not doing things with pitches we would normally hit out in the trees. Some of our guys got pitches to hit and didn't hit them the first time around and that frustrated them."
Ranck was battling more than just the Danville lineup during the time Mordan seemed to find his groove. The senior right-hander slipped twice during the third inning on a mound softened by recent rain. Ranck never did seem to get comfortable, but never gave up a big inning, either.
He allowed a run in the third inning on a two-out RBI double by leadoff hitter Garrett Krum. And he allowed just one more in the fourth inning despite loading the bases with nobody out thanks to a single and a pair of errors by the Warriors' infield.
Despite the struggles with the mound, Ranck never threw more than 19 pitches in an inning. He allowed just the two runs, scattered four hits and retired the side in order in the first, second, sixth and seventh innings on a combined 34 pitches.
"It's a shame we didn't do more (in the fourth inning), but you have to look at the caliber of kid you're facing and you have to tip your hat to the pitcher," Knorr said. "I thought it was a heck of a lot more of what he did right than what we did wrong."
Cole gave Ranck an opportunity to pick up the win, and he adjusted to Mordan's penchant for pounding the outside corner in the sixth inning. With Mondell on second base after a single and a stolen base, Cole served an 0-1 curveball on the outer half into right field to score Mondell and give the Warriors a 3-2 lead.
Montoursville left four runners on base combined in the sixth and seventh innings, but the hit by Cole, who had just gotten back into the starting lineup for Thursday's game against Mifflinburg, was more than enough for Ranck to close out the win.
"The at-bat before that when I flew out to left, I was just trying to get the ball in play and move the runner from second to third," Cole said. "So I came up again in that situation and I knew he was throwing curveballs all over. So I was looking for a curveball, got it, and just hit it the other way."
"That's big for him because he had been struggling a little bit," Wurster said. "We just talked about a two-strike approach recently and that was it. He got a pitch and he put it in play and you never know what's going to happen when you do that."
Montoursville burned its top two pitchers in the last two days as both Andrew Null and Ranck threw complete games meaning neither can throw in today's Backyard Brawl at Logue Field. But it was by design for Wurster.
He said the team has its sight set on trying to catch Jersey Shore and win the HAC-I, which is why he threw his best pitchers in two league games.
"If they beat us, at least we went about it the right way," Wurster said. "Saving guys for a tournament would be the wrong way to play the game. We didn't want to do that. We're also trying to set our guys up to throw next week so they're ready when playoffs come. We want to go into the playoffs guns blazing and to have Andrew and Pierce is probably one of the better one-two combineations we've ever had."
Montoursville 200 001 0 - 3 7 2
Danville 001 100 0 - 2 4 0
Pierce Ranck and Cam Ott. Kurtis Mordan, Mason Fausnaught and Colton Riley. W-Ranck. L-Mordan.
Top Montoursville hitters: Andrew Null, 2-4; Quinton Kuntz, 2-3, RBI; Ryan Mondell, 2-3, run; Dalton Cristini, RBI; Aaron Cole, 1-3, game-winning RBI. Top Danville hitters: Garrett Krum, 1-3, double, RBI; Mason Fausnaught, 2-3, run; Colton Riley, RBI.
With runners in scoring position: Montoursville 2-11; Danville 0-5.
Runners left on base-in scoring position: Montoursville 9-6; Danville 5-3.
Pitches-strikes: Montoursville, Ranck 89-60. Danville, Mordan 130-72; Fausnaught 21-12.
Batters face-first pitch strikes: Montoursville, Ranck 28-19. Danville, Mordan 29-15; Fausnaught 6-5.
Records: Montoursville (11-2); Danville (5-11).