As Loyalsock baseball coach Jeremy Eck handed out gold medals after Loyalsock captured Friday's Class AA state championship, young son Elijah held onto his leg and went for the ride. Minutes later, Elijah smiled as Eck gave him a kiss, a scene displayed upon the stadium's jumbotron at Penn State.
Elijah saved his biggest smile until Eck concluded his final postgame interview. Seeing his father's team winning a state championship was nice. Hearing his dad tell him where they were headed next was the ultimate.
"I'm not even going to touch a baseball for a few months," Eck said. "We're going to enjoy the (new) baby a little bit and we're going to Knoebels (Saturday) to celebrate."
There were no TV cameras around and Eck was not doing a Disney World-like championship commercial for Knoebels. This was just father and son extending one of the most memorable weekends their family has ever experienced.
The season was filled with enough twists and turns to make Stephen King blush, but Eck and Loyalsock (22-3) persevered as they captured the program's second state title despite having only one senior starter. Eck took over in 2010 after Casey Waller had led Loyalsock to a 2008 state championship and the 2009 Final 4. He has been on a mission since to keep this program among the state's elite.
Consider that mission accomplished. The ups and downs drained Eck who put everything he had into making this season a successful one. Do not expect him to be on a baseball field for a while. Do expect him to attack 2014 the same way he has his previous four seasons.
And maybe Elijah will get another celebratory trip next June.
"We're going to enjoy this for a few months. I'm going to lose some weight because I was a little stressed out and I'm going to decompress a little bit, float down the crick a little bit," Eck said. "It only gets tougher. For the most part we got everyone's No. 1 this year and we're sure as heck getting everyone's No. 1 next year.
"But we'll be ready."
One has a feeling Caleb Robbins' grandfather was smiling from above Friday evening. Robbins' grandfather passed away two weeks ago and Caleb honored him the best way possible, scoring the game-winning run in Friday's state final.
Robbins pinch-ran for Robbie Klein after he was hit by a pitch to start the seventh. Robbins moved to second on Ethan Moore's bunt and made a furious dash for home when Bailey Young smashed a single into right field. Robbins displayed sprinter's like speed, took a good angle around third base and slid home with the winning run.
A movie writer could not have scripted a much better ending.
"There's nothing like it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it's awesome," Robbins said. "I might not be able to sleep for a while thinking about how great the game was and how great the experience was."
Earlier Friday, Trevor Route did all he could to help Canton win its first Class A state championship. The sophomore second baseman went 2 for 2 with a walk and made a series of good plays, but Canton lost to Johnsonburg, 5-0. Still, Route stood out and showed a state-wide audience how far he has come this season.
Route opened the season as the team's No. 9 hitter, but came alive late and was outstanding throughout the postseason offensively and defensively.
"He has grown so much throughout the year," Canton coach Bob Rockwell said. "That little sophomore just oozes with confidence right now. That's why I bumped him up from No. 9 to No. 2 in the order."
Route hit .330 this season and was a rock in the middle of the infield throughout the postseason. He turned a game-ending double play to help Canton capture its first District 4 championship and made some great plays in the Eastern Final as Canton edged Old Forge, 2-1. If Route had not made those plays, the Warriors (23-3) might not have been playing Friday.
"I know I'm never going to forget playing on this field. I always wanted to play on Bowman Field, that was a big dream of mine, but to play at Penn State on this field is amazing," Route said. "I never thought in a hundred years I would ever be here in State College on this field."
Route shared this history-making experience with his brother Connor, the team's starting first baseman. The brothers delivered back-to-back first-inning hits Friday and both played strong defense.
The Routes have long been a strong athletic family in Canton. The tradition appears to be only growing stronger.
"We both had good games and it was a really good experience for both of us," Trevor Route said. "We go from playing catch in the backyard and now to be here in the state final is definitely a good feeling."
MORE TO COME?
Like Loyalsock, Canton has a strong core of starters returning next year. Pitchers Garrett Wesneski (10-1) and Chase Pepper (8-2) return after having dominant seasons and sophomore John Bowman (4-0) has big-time potential. Five starters who hit above .300 are back and Canton now knows that anything is possible.
The road to a state final is arduous, but Canton has the players and coaches to make another extended run.
"We have all our pitching back," Connor Route said. "We have good guys, young guys to fill spots and we'll have another great year next year."
Seniors Emmett Watson, Josiah Bardo and Wes Moore will not be back but what they have done for the program should help it continue to thrive. All had big years, all hit .368 or higher and all came up big at key times.
"It's tough to replace those three starting seniors," Rockwell said. "You can't replace them, you just have to find a way to find someone else who did half a good of job as they did."
SIMPLY THE BEST
This season was one of the best in area baseball history. For this reporter, who has covered high school baseball since 1999, it was the best. Even before Loyalsock captured the state championship, the season was filled with outstanding play, teams making history and tremendous storylines.
For starters, two area teams reached the state finals. Three teams (Canton, Hughesville and Jersey Shore) won district titles, Canton and Hughesville doing so for the first time. Jersey Shore won an unprecedented third straight district title and also captured the HAC-I title, running its streak of championships to eight seasons, tops among District 4.
Sullivan County (16-5) had the best year in program history, Montgomery reached its third straight district final, South Williamsport started 11-0 after losing six starters and Muncy reached the postseason for a 15th straight year.
The district playoff games were filled with thrillers, packing as much drama as a blockbuster movie. Loyalsock won consecutive one-run games to reach the district final and Hughesville edged it 7-5 in nine innings in the district final. Canton won an eight-inning semifinal over Muncy before rallying from four down in the championship to beat Montgomery. Later that night, Jersey Shore blanked Midd-West, 1-0 in nine innings, and the next day Loyalsock beat Montoursville in the bottom of the seventh, 2-1, in one of the best games those perennial powers have ever played.
Really, the only bad part of the 2013 area baseball season is that it had to end.
CALLING ALL STARS
Area baseball and softball all-star teams will be unveiled next weekend. Coaches or stat keepers are encouraged to send in stats for nominees ASAP. Stats are needed from the following baseball teams: Hughesville. Stats are needed for the following softball teams: Jersey Shore, Montoursville, South Williamsport and Warrior Run.