High schools throughout Pennsylvania are learning what the Northern Tier has known for years.
The Canton kids can play.
The Canton baseball team makes its Class A state semifinal debut today at Bloomsburg University against Old Forge. Those who have followed the players since they first started competing realize this is just another step on a journey they started long ago. Canton (22-2) is having the best season in school history, winning a district championship and state tournament games for the first time. But this is not a case of a team heating up at the right time or catching lightning in a bottle for a year.
The Warriors have played with each other since many started swinging a bat and they have experienced nothing but winning. Several players also were the first to win district championships for Canton at the youth 9-10, 11-12 and Junior Division levels.
"They work hard all summer long. They have played travel ball all the way up since they were little kids and as they grow up they keep playing travel ball and then they get into the legion program and then it's high school so it's not just high school where they are successful," long-time Canton coach Bob Rockwell said. "These kids put their time in to get where they're at."
Where they are now is a step away from playing in the state's biggest game. The winner of today's game between the District 4 and District 2 champions goes to Penn State on Friday and plays for a state championship. All those games over the years, all those practices and all the memories created has led to this moment.
PIAA CLASS A EASTERN FINAL
Old Forge vs. Canton
Canton facts: The Warriors are playing in the state's Final 4 for the first time. They have made history this season, capturing the program's first district championship while also winning its first two state tournament games. Canton pounded 2012 state semifinalist Lancaster County Christian, 8-1, in the first round before Garrett Wesneski threw a complete-game six-hitter, struck out nine and hit a home run in a 3-1 quarterfinal win over District 1 champion Calvary Christian. Wesneski is one of eight starters hitting higher than .300. Emmett Watson was one of the NTL's best hitters this season as was Josiah Bardo and both are among team leaders in RBIs and runs scored. First baseman Connor Route had three hits and four RBIs against LCC while No. 9 hitter Tanner Machmer went 2 for 2 and reached base three times in that game. Wes Moore and Chase Pepper combined for four hits, six runs and three RBIs in an 8-5 district championship win over Montgomery. Moore hit a two-out go-ahead sixth-inning single as Canton completed a comeback after being down 4-0 in the second inning. Wesneski and Pepper have shined on the mound, going a combined 17-2. Wesneski (10-0) has allowed four runs in 17 postseason innings while Pepper (7-2) threw four hitless innings against Muncy in the district semifinals and threw five shutout innings against LCC last Monday. John Bowman struck out the side in that win and is 4-0.
Old Forge facts: The Blue Devils are coming off a 4-0 quarterfinal win over District 1 runner-up Devon Prep. Right-hander Derek Drasba threw a one-hit shutout in his first performance since May 13. Drasba has been solid and ace David Chromey has been dominant at times. The left-hander went 3-1 in the regular season with a 4.24 ERA and threw a two-hit shutout in a critical late-season win over Mid Valley. Chromey struck out 13 in a thrilling 4-3 first-round win over Tri-Valley, stranding the tying runner on third with two outs in the seventh. Chromey also threw a three-hit shutout and struck out seven in a 1-0 District 2 championship win over defending champion Lackawanna Trail. The four-year starter uses four pitches and mixes his fastball and changeup well. Warren Welsh (.279) has come up big throughout the playoffs. His seventh-inning double ignited the game-winning, seventh-inning rally against Tri-Valley and he also had an RBI single in the Lackawanna Trail win. Old Forge was held to four hits against Devon Prep but ran the bases well and received timely hits. Lead-off hitter Mike Vieira (.372) went 1 for 2 with two runs while Matt Mancuso (.320) was 1 for 2 with two RBIs. First baseman Robert Donovan (.353) added a hit and scored a run. Drasba, 5-2 on the mound, is hitting .388 while Chromey is hitting .364 and Steve Mascaro his hitting .378 with 19 runs and 16 RBIs. Like Canton, Old Forge has played a solid schedule and has not lost to a Class A team. Its only losses are to District 2 Class AA champion Lakeland (twice) and Mid Valley. Old Forge has won six of the last seven District 2 championships and reached the 2009 state semifinals.
Winner plays: Either District 9 runner-up Johnsonburg or District 7 third-place finisher California
- By CHRIS MASSE
The Warriors are excited for the opportunity. They are even more excited they are doing so together. The years have changed but the names have not.
"It's awesome. We play so good together," pitcher/infielder Garrett Wesneski said. "We've been playing together since we were like 5 all the way up through. We all get along and this is a great team together."
Canton has had little trouble translating its youth and travel ball success to high school. It opened the season with 13 consecutive wins and is 4-0 in the postseason, winning games in a variety of ways. The Warriors captured the NTL-West championship in their debut season, lost two games by one run each to solid Class AA teams which they also beat, and have displayed terrific balance.
The Warriors edged Muncy in the district semifinals in eight innings, overcame a four-run deficit against defending district champion Montgomery in the final and have won their first two state games by an 11-2 margin. As the games have grown tougher, a close team has pulled together even tighter while captivating its community.
Last Monday, fans filled nearly all the seats along the first-base line at Bowman Field as Canton routed Lancaster County Christian, 3-1, in its state tournament debut. An early start and a near three-hour drive could not deter them Thursday as they again flocked to watch the Warriors play. They not only like that Canton is winning, they like how they play.
"Nobody is cocky on this team at all. Everyone wants everyone to do well," first baseman Connor Route said. "We're just like brothers on this team playing great baseball."
Canton quietly has built a solid high school tradition. It starts at the lower levels, but a lot of teams enter high school with impressive youth accolades. Canton has built off that success at the next level with good coaching, hard work and an expectation of success. The Warriors have the talent but also have been willing to pay the price to be elite.
Going back to 2009, Canton has played in four of the last five district championships. It has won at least 15 games in each of the last four seasons and always helds its own when playing in the NTL-East, a strong league that featured mostly larger school teams.
"We've been coached real well since we were little kids. It's not just high school," Route said. "We play a lot of travel ball and it's great to be doing this."
Past Canton teams laid the foundation and this one is laying one brick after another upon it. The Warriors already have established themselves as the best team in program history.
Now they would like to make sure their accomplishments can never be topped.
"We're one of four teams left," Rockwell said. "They're ready for anything and they want it bad."