Mother Nature cannot stop me. Many think she ended the Backyard Brawl before it started Saturday after pouring down drenching rain Friday night and Saturday morning.
Think again. The Brawl still was played, this time in one of the strangest places known to mankind - my mind. South Williamsport and Montoursville opened the Brawl in a rematch of last year's District 4 Class AA quarterfinal won by the Mounties.
Eager to exact revenge, Montoursville jumps out early, taking a 2-0 lead on Andrew Null's home run that scores Pierce Ranck. A Curtis Miller second-inning RBI single makes it 3-0 but the Mounties start rallying in the third. Tyler House stays hot and drills a one-out double and Ryan Orgitano scores both he and Nick Mistretta with a two-run double. House settles in on the mound and keeps Montoursville off the board through the fifth when South takes its first lead, courtesy of Zach Staver's two-out, two-run single.
Montoursville used top pitchers Null and Ranck earlier this week and South keeps pouncing on a tiring pitching staff playing its third game in four days. Anthony Caruso hits a two-run double and Zach Welter an RBI single as South takes an apparent comfortable 7-3 lead into the seventh. Unfazed, Montoursville mounts a big rally and pulls within 7-6 on Ranck's two-out, two-run single and Cam Ott's RBI double.
South reliever Cody Nelson is in a tough spot against Null who rockets a liner toward the right-center field gap. Just when it looks like the game will be tied, right fielder Joey Balawajder makes a spectacular catch and South prevails in a thriller, 7-6.
Loyalsock and Williamsport have a lot to live up to in the second game but stage another close game, exchanging one-run leads throughout the first five innings while fighting to a 3-3 tie. Jimmy Webb starts the game with a bang, hitting a one-out home run, but Sam Bubb and Owen Lukens answer with RBI singles in the bottom half. Robbie Klein and Ethan Moore hit RBI singles in the fourth inning but Steven Moon's RBI double ties at it 3-3 in the fifth.
Dr. Masse's Top 5
1. Loyalsock (15-1)
The Lancers are tied for first in the HAC-II with South. Loyalsock is seeking its fifth straight league championship and is the only team to ever win the HAC-II crown. If Loyalsock beats Hughesville Tuesday it wins at least a share of the title and remains a front runner for the district's top seed. Moore has come up huge and has thrown 24 straight scoreless innings, extending that streak in Friday's 4-1 win at Lewisburg. The Lancers beat playoff-bound Central Columbia 6-4 earlier in the week as Young went 3 for 3 and Webb tripled and doubled. Loyalsock has won 12 straight games despite dealing with a series of injuries and a key player defection.
2. South Williamsport (13-1)
The Mounties will win at least a share of the HAC-II title in their inaugural year if they win Friday at home against Mount Carmel. South kept its championship hopes alive Thursday, rallying from a two-run deficit and defeating Shamokin, 5-3. Staver had a big week, going 5 for 7 in two wins while finishing a triple shy of hitting for the cycle in a 13-0 win over Warrior Run. Caruso had his third multi-hit performance in four games that same day. Nelson won his third game in relief against Shamokin while Rummings earned his second save. Neither one threw at the varsity level last year but they have combined to go 7-1 with four saves.
3. Jersey Shore (13-2)
The Bulldogs have won five straight and capture at least a share of their second straight HAC-I championship if they beat Selinsgrove and/or Shikellamy Wednesday and Thursday. Win both games and the Bulldogs are outright champions. Jersey Shore has been one of the district's most successful programs since 2006, winning a district and/or league championship every season, something no other team has achieved. Outfielder Zach Miller has been instrumental to this year's success and has been one of the area's breakthrough players. The sophomore is hitting .442 with three home runs and 16 RBIs. He has a seven-game hitting streak and also has at least one RBI in five straight games.
4. Montoursville (11-2)
The Warriors have another tough week with five games scheduled from Tuesday through Saturday. Montoursville hosts its annual Giles Tournament Saturday and is seeking its third championship in four years. It opens with Mansfield in the first game while Milton and Wellsboro play in the other first-round game. Montoursville needs to win its final two league games and hope Jersey Shore loses at least one to win a share of the HAC-I championship. The Warriors have a chance to avenge one of their two losses Tuesday against Shikellamy. Null and Ranck allowed only seven hits and three runs in wins over Mifflinburg and Danville last week and are a combined 9-1.
5. Williamsport (11-4)
The Millionaires have excelled in close games all season, winning their last three one-run games, including last week's 6-5 comeback win at Mifflin County. Williamsport overcame a 5-2 deficit and is 5-1 in games decided by two or fewer runs. Williamsport went 4-2 in Central Penn League play and District 2 uses that record to seed it for playoffs. That could be useful since right now, the Millionaires are percentage points ahead of Wyoming Valley West and Hazleton. Earning one of the top two seeds would give Williamsport a bye into the semifinals. Finishing No. 3 or 4 would give it a first-round quarterfinal game. Ben Myers was key to the Mifflin County comeback, going 2 for 4 with a RBI.
Player of the Week
Matt Reese, Wellsboro
The senior pitcher/shortstop delivered in all facets last week. He threw a complete-game six-hitter in a 5-2 win over Danville while also going 4 for 4 with a double and two runs scored. Three days later, Reese went 1 for 2, reached base three times and scored three times as Wellsboro routed Williamson, 12-2 and won its fourth straight.
Game of the Week
Hughesville at Loyalsock
The Spartans are rolling and have a chance to spoil Loyalsock's HAC-II championship hopes Tuesday while making a statement with playoffs approaching. This has become one of the area's premier rivalries and the teams have split the regular-season series the last three years. Expect this one to have a playoff-feel.
Both teams have some of the deepest pitching around and the game remains scoreless until the seventh when Tommy Baggett hits a clutch two-out RBI single. Ian Dinsmore tries igniting a one-out rally with a single in the bottom of the seventh but is caught stealing by Bailey Young. Bubb and Lukens, though, follow with a single and RBI triple, respectively, and the game is tied.
Catcher Joey Cassidy then rips a page out of the movie "Major League," and drops a beautiful bunt on a suicide squeeze. Kyle Datres hustles toward the ball and makes a nice scoop throw home but Lukens uses nifty hook slide and scores the winning run as Williamsport takes it 5-4.
Loyalsock and Montoursville both have busy upcoming weeks and are not eager to show each other much and a slugfest ensues in the consolation game. Montoursville takes a 10-9 lead on Dalton Cristini's two-run double in the top of the seventh, but Phil Krizan lifts Loyalsock to a dramatic 11-10 win, slamming a three-run walk-off triple.
As the sun sets, South comes out strong in the championship, scoring three runs after Justin Knee ignites the rally with a one-out double. Rummings takes a no-hitter into the fourth inning, but Williamsport comes alive and Noah Esposito's two-run, two-out single caps a four-run rally that gives Williamsport its first lead. Zach Staver nearly puts South back ahead in the sixth inning, but pitcher Aaron Weber makes a tremendous leaping catch on a screamer headed toward center field.
Billy Rummings allows only two hits after the fourth and helps his cause in the seventh, hitting a lead-off single. Mistretta's bunt moves him to second and Knee keeps the rally going with a two-out walk. Weber goes up 0-2 on Orgitano but the four-year starter fouls off three pitches and takes two balls before crushing a drive toward the deepest part of center field.
Austin Robinson gets a great break on the ball and sprints toward the fence. The ball is headed over, but Robinson uses the fence for leverage, leaps up and robs Orgitano of the go-ahead home run while giving Williamsport its third Backyard Brawl championship in five seasons.
Going in, many thought this could be the best Brawl ever and the games do not just live up to the hype, but exceed it.
Next year, though, let's play the games on the field. At Bowman Field, to be precise.
Canton, Sullivan County, Muncy and Montgomery all have clinched District 4 Class A playoff berths. And they could end up being the only teams in the tournament.
St. John Neumann (8-8), Line Mountain (8-10) and Sayre (5-9) are still in the hunt, but all three face challenges, especially Sayre. The Knights are having a nice season after losing six starters from last year's playoff team while starting four freshmen. They suffered a heart-breaking 1-0 loss at Muncy on Friday but still will advance if they can win at least two of their final four games against Sullivan County, Bloomsburg, Montgomery and Northeast Bradford.
Line Mountain faces Newport and Juniata, needing to win both. It lost to Newport, 3-1, and beat Juniata, 15-12, earlier this season. Sayre has to win all four of its games against Towanda, Wyalusing, Athens and Millville.
Canton (16-1) will be the top seed and Sullivan (13-4) the likely No. 2. That leaves Muncy (12-7) and Montgomery (10-7) fighting for the No. 3 spot. All four teams have standout pitchers, Canton basically has two aces, and in a four-team tournament, each team could ride its ace through the championship.
At least three District 4 Class AA teams will receive first-round byes into the quarterfinals. At most, 13 teams will advance but if Athens (8-7) and/or Wyalusing (6-8) fail to qualify, the field could be reduced to 12 or 11 and increase the first-round byes to four or five.
Receiving those byes is a big deal because it gives teams more freedom in setting up their pitching. A team with a bye can throw its ace in both the quarterfinals and semifinals and that could be crucial since reaching the championship assures a state playoff berth.
Entering the week, Loyalsock (15-1), South (13-1) and Montoursville (11-2) hold the top three spots but East Juniata (13-3) and Wellsboro (12-3) are not far behind.
Hughesville is one of the area's hottest teams, winning five straight and outscoring opponents 26-3 in its last four games. Pitchers Justin Lambert and Sadiq Burkholder have been dominant and combined with Cody Stryker to allow just eight hits in three wins last week. Lambert has a 17-inning scoreless streak and Burkholder has won four straight ... Alex Worthington threw a five-hitter and ripped three hits as Montgomery clinched its ninth straight playoff berth last Wednesday. Montgomery appears to be hitting its stride, beating Southern Columbia and Bloomsburg in its last two games ... Skylar Ebner was dominant in just his second varsity start last Friday. Ebner, usually a reliever, threw a five-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over Neumann ... Sullivan County is playing as well as it ever has. The Griffins have won six straight and 13 of their last 14. They have a shot at breaking the program record for wins and have topped 10 runs eight times in their last 13 games. Kelby Mullen (6-2) went 4 for 6 with four RBIs in last week's two wins.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse for more baseball information.