They gathered along the first-base line, flashing wide grins as happy parents snapped photo after photo. Some day soon, one of those pictures will hang in the school's trophy case.
More district champions might follow but this group always will stand out. They always will hold a special place. This is the first champion.
Wes Moore hit a two-out, go-ahead sixth-inning single that sparked a three-run rally, Garrett Wesneski threw five strong innings in relief and the Canton baseball team captured its first District 4 Class A championship, defeating Montgomery, 8-5, Wednesday at Bowman Field.
Canton players celebrate after winning the District 4 Class A championship over Montgomery on Wednesday at Bowman Field. The Warriors won, 8-5. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com
"It's very exciting. I'm very glad to do it and this was the best way to do it," Moore said. "It was a competitive game. They played tough, we played tough and it happened to go our way today."
Canton (20-2) returns to Bowman Field Monday to play its first state playoff game against District 3 runner-up Lancaster County Christian.
The win ended a long 26-year journey for coach Bob Rockwell who has won more than 300 games at Canton. The Warriors had won just about everything except a district championship during Rockwell's tenure, prior to yesterday, and lost in three of the previous four district finals.
The milestone has finally been achieved. This team now stands alone as the best in program history.
"It's actually better than how I envisioned it," Rockwell said. "We finally got this monkey off our backs but it's not about me or coach (Lyle) Wesneski. It's about these kids. They came fighting back. They are a special group of kids."
But it appeared Canton might be headed for heartbreak again when Montgomery (14-8) scored four second-inning runs and built a 4-0 lead. The defending champions downed Canton 4-0 in last year's final but this was a new year. Canton was unfazed and would not be rattled.
The Warriors chipped away at the lead, scoring two runs in the bottom of the second, one in the fourth and two more in the fifth to tie it 5-5 on Chase Pepper's RBI single and Emmett Watson's RBI grounder.
That set the stage for Moore who came up with two outs in the sixth after Kyle Landis (2 for 3) hit a one-out single and Josiah Bardo bunted pinch-runner Tim Bassett to second. The senior shortstop, who also played terrific defense, lined the first pitch he saw from Alex Worthington into left field, easily scoring Bassett.
"It was just a thrill. I didn't even know where it went. I just swung and I ran," said Moore, who went 2 for 3 with three runs. "It was a special one, a memorable one."
Pepper provided another memorable one a batter later, crushing a RBI triple to deep left field. He then scored on a wild pitch as Canton took an 8-5 lead.
Worthington, who scattered six hits and threw 131 pitches, led off the seventh inning with a single and Montgomery loaded the bases with one out. The defending champions did not go easy but second baseman Trevor Route provided the knockout blow and clinched history moments later.
Route made a lunging catch on a soft Corey Kriner pop-up. It was an impressive catch by Route who had to cover a lot of ground. When the runner on first was caught way off the base thinking the ball would drop, history was at hand. Route threw to his older brother Connor and Canton had its championship.
"I ran up on it and just laid out and called it and just tossed it to first and after that it was a blur," Trevor Route said. "It didn't hit me until he caught the ball that we just won the district championship for the first time in school history. It was amazing. I was speechless. It didn't even seem real. It almost felt like a dream."
Wesneski helped the dream become reality. The junior pitcher, who hit a walk-off double in Saturday's extra-inning win over Muncy, allowed only a fifth-inning run off Marcus Bartlett's RBI single. He struck out five and helped give Canton a chance to make its comeback.
Worthington did all he could to prevent that comeback. The senior pitcher repeatedly wiggled out of trouble like he did in Saturday's 5-1 win over Sullivan County. He stranded nine runners over the first three innings and left the bases loaded with one out in the first.
Canton looked like it was going to tie it 4-4 in the third when Tanner Machmer slammed a ball toward the left-center field gap that easily would have scored two runs. Instead, left fielder Corey Kriner made an amazing diving catch, fully extending himself to rob Machmer of the two-out double.
Those who understood Canton's history of coming so close to winning district championships might have thought they were seeing a "Peanuts" repeat and that Lucy was getting ready to lift the ball again from a charging Charlie Brown.
Not this year. This time, Canton would not be denied.
"They are a tough-nosed, hard-nosed group. They didn't buckle," Rockwell said. "I was wondering if it wasn't meant to be again, but it worked out."
Montgomery reached the district final for the third straight time, the first baseball team in school history to ever achieve that. Cam McHenry and Worthington each had two hits while Bartlett had two RBIs, giving him four in two playoff games.
They were starters on last year's state finalist that beat Canton in the district final. The Warriors desperately wanted a rematch and owned the moment once they earned it.
Montgomery 040 010 0-5 7 3
Canton020 123 x-8 6 2
Alex Worthington and Thomas Goetz. Chase Pepper, Garrett Wesneski (3) and Travis Butcher. W-Wesneski, (9-0). L-Worthington, (5-6).
Top Montgomery hitters: Worthington 2-4; Cam McHenry 2-4, 2B, R . Top Canton hitters: Kyle Landis 2-4, RBI; Wes Moore 2-3, 3 R, RBI; Chase Pepper 2-4, 3B, 2 RBI, 3 R.
Records: Canton 20-2. Montgomery 14-8.