Two teams are hoping to go somewhere they never have before. The other is seeking yet another Final 4 appearance.
Together, Hughesville, Canton and Loyalsock try reaching the state's Final 4 today when they play in their respective state tournament quarterfinals. Hughesville and Loyalsock compete in the Class AA quarterfinals in Pine Grove at noon and 3, respectively, while Canton travels to Fredericksburg and plays Calvary Christian in the Class A quarterfinals. The Spartans meet Salisbury while Loyalsock plays Delone Catholic.
Hughesville and Canton are playing in their first state tournaments, while Loyalsock is after its fourth state semifinal appearance since 2008. All three are carrying the banner for District 4 and all three are hoping to take a big step toward raising another banner soon.
"Anybody has a chance," Hughesville right fielder Brady Kimble said. "As we keep going the competition is going to get harder but we accept that and we're willing to fight through just like everyone else."
"We're trying to get better every game," Canton designated hitter Tanner Machmer said. "We're trying to keep rolling."
Hughesville has been rolling since halfway through the season. Following a 5-6 start, the Spartans were hoping just to get 10 wins and reach districts. Had they not swept a doubleheader against Central Columbia a day after that sixth loss, the Spartans might have been in serious trouble.
Instead, Hughesville (18-7) has played like a team on a mission, winning 13 of its last 14 games. The Spartans believed all season that if they reached the postseason, they would be hard to eliminate. They have proven it, too, winning five straight postseason games, beating South Williamsport and Loyalsock, teams that swept them during the regular season, and blanking Kutztown 2-0 in Monday's first round.
Justin Lambert threw a seven-hit shutout in that game and today's likely starter, Sadiq Burkholder, has been dominant in the playoffs, too. The senior is 2-0, threw a two-hit shutout against South, beat Loyalsock in a nine-inning district final thriller and closed out a 6-1 semifinal win over Southern Columbia.
The defense has come up big, playing two straight errorless games and Hughesville has effectively manufactured runs while receiving timely hits throughout the lineup. Hughesville did not start the way it hoped this season, but it has come together at the perfect time.
"Everything is going well for us right now," said catcher Brett Reitz after throwing out two runners Monday. "We feel confident in what we're doing and in each other."
So does Loyalsock.
The Lancers (19-3) bounced back from that Hughesville heartbreaker in impressive fashion, blanking District 2 champion Lakeland, 6-0. Loyalsock has overcome injuries and adversity all season and did not buckle after the district final or at the prospect of playing a team riding a 16-game winning streak.
"We have too much pride and too much character on this team to walk away," Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. "Our goals are too high to sit back and let one loss in the district final ruin our season."
Loyalsock has all its pitchers available after Luke Glavin and Kyle Datres combined on a four-hit shutout Monday. The two combined for 12 strikeouts with Glavin throwing 3 2/3 strong innings before Datres delivered 3 1/3 hitless innings and worked out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam upon entering. Ethan Moore is 4-1 while Robbie Klein threw well in the district final so the Lancers have plenty of options despite injuries having riddled the staff throughout the season and one of its top pitchers leaving the team.
Despite the constant injuries, Loyalsock won 13 straight games at one point and rallied to capture its fifth straight HAC-II title. Datres and right fielder Jimmy Webb are receiving Major Division I interest and Webb already has verbally committed to play at Wake Forest. Klein has been a clutch hitter all season while Tommy Baggett leads the team in RBIs.
The Lancers play in a tough conference and played no cupcakes outside the league. However it has had to do it, Loyalsock consistently has found a way to do so.
"We loaded our schedule this year with the Central Mountain's, the Danville's, the Montoursville's and the Milton's so we're prepared for this," Eck said. "We're excited. If we get one more we're in the Eastern final."
The same applies for Canton. Like Hughes-ville, the Warriors won their first district tournament last week and trying to extend the best season in program history. Canton (21-2) has won eight of its last nine games and thumped 2012 state semifinalist Lancaster County Christian 8-1 in Monday's state tournament debut.
The Warriors came through under pressure in districts, edging Muncy 2-1 in eight innings before overcoming a four-run deficit and downing defending champion Montgomery, 8-5. Pitchers Garrett Wesneski and Chase Pepper have been outstanding, combining for 16 wins and the offense has been strong top to bottom. The defense also shined Monday, playing an errorless game.
"We're peaking at the right time," first baseman Connor Route said after going 3 for 4 with four RBIs Monday. "Nobody is cocky on this team at all. Everyone wants everyone to do well. We're just like brothers on this team playing great baseball."
The goal for all three teams is now is to continue doing so. They are the talk of the communities right now. They are in the spotlight and are looking for that moment to own and become theirs.
"It's a great feeling," Kimble said. "And when you see all the fans filling up the bleachers you get chills throughout your body and you hope they keep coming."