As they started their baseball journey nearly a decade ago, Jersey Shore Little League Baseball players watched something unprecedented happen.
The high school team captured its first district championship.
Jersey Shore youth baseball teams had thrived for years but this was the first time in this group's lives the high school team matched their success. More championships followed in the coming years and those kids grew up not hoping to hang title banners when they arrived at high school, but expecting to do so.
Jersey Shore captured its record third consecutive District 4 Class AAA championship last Wednesday, edging Midd-West, 1-0 in a nine-inning thriller. Since that breakthrough season in 2006, Jersey Shore (17-3) has won a district and/or league championship every season, a distinction no other District 4 program can claim.
Winning championships is all these players know.
"No one has ever done this. That has to say something for us," right fielder Zach DePasqua said after delivering the walk-off single against Midd-West. "It's pretty special."
"I've been playing with these guys my whole life," said pitcher Travis Eiswerth after throwing a seven-hit complete game. "To get this opportunity to make history for Jersey Shore is just awesome."
Loyalsock and Montoursville are the only teams that have won more games than Jersey Shore since 2006. But only Jersey Shore has a title banner for every season since then. It has won four district championships and six league titles during that time. Over the past two seasons, the Bulldogs are 35-6-1.
Former coach Shawn Weaver started building Jersey Shore into a power when he arrived in 2006. He left following the 2010 season and had one piece of advice for incoming coach Matt O'Brien.
"When Weaver passed the torch he said don't mess it up," O'Brien said. "I'm doing my best not to."
Jersey Shore overcame an 0-2 start in O'Brien's inaugural season to win its first district title since 2006. Two more district championships and two straight HAC-I championships have followed. The Bulldogs broke the program record for wins last year and can tie that mark today if they win their state tournament opener at Marywood University against District 2 champion Abington Heights.
Players have come and players have gone. Jersey Shore has featured young teams and experienced ones. The common denominator has been winning championships. All three district title games the past three seasons have been difficult, two coming via 1-0 victories. There has been little room for error and Jersey Shore has embraced those situations.
There was a time when Jersey Shore waited for the sky to fall and when it seemingly could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Those days are long gone. No matter the situation, players past and present over the past eight seasons always have believed they would prevail. So many times they have.
"We stayed up the whole (Midd-West) game," DePasqua said. "We had no doubt we were going to win. We wanted that game bad."
This Jersey Shore team has been a microcosm of the championship teams before it. O'Brien has used all his players this season, consistently changing lineups, and each one has delivered. Eiswerth and Chris Glunk have won 13 games and fellow pitchers like Dylan Hamm and Travis Bradley also have had strong seasons. Look through the boxscores and one sees more than a dozen players who have delivered big hits in key spots.
"I think sometimes you get caught up when you haven't had anything but success, but you remember what it was like to be a high school athlete and it's not a given you win the district title every year and get to go to the state tournament every year no matter what type of talent you have," O'Brien said. "It's all about the kids and what they do."
Jersey Shore has won nine of its last 10 games and went 13-1 in the HAC-I for a second straight year, avenging its only league loss by rallying from a five-run deficit and winning at Montoursville, 9-8. That was the second straight game in which Jersey Shore overcame a deficit of at least four runs to win.
Players and coaches work hard but they no longer carry the baggage of past shortcomings. This team has won at every level and keeps raising the bar.
The drive toward the next goal begins today at Marywood. No Jersey Shore team has ever won a state title. This team believes there is no reason they cannot be the first. And it will enjoy pursuing that dream together.
"We're very close and we're all friends and are having fun," Eiswerth said. "It's great to play on a team like this."