Loyalsock center fielder Nick DiFrancesco owns a state championship ring but those 2013 memories that produced it are more painful than sweet.
DiFrancesco missed nearly all of last season after suffering a lower back stress fracture. A fierce competitor was forced to the dugout and while he supported his teammates, he wished he hated being a spectator.
Nothing can be done about that, but DiFrancesco is back and making the most of his final scholastic opportunity. Saturday, he helped the Lancers win another championship.
Brycen Mussina (35) of Montoursville is congratulated after his game-winning hit in the consolation game Saturday at Bowman Field. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
Joey Balawajder of Loyalsock talks with South Williamsport first baseman Anthony Caruso during the championship game Saturday at Bowman Field.
DiFrancesco had three hits, reached base five times and played outstanding defense at Bowman Field as Loyalsock defeated Williamsport, 9-2 and South Williamsport, 6-3 to capture its second straight Backyard Brawl championship. DiFrancesco went 3 for 3 in Game 1 while freshman Andrew Malone and Kyle Datres pitched outstanding in both games.
"It sucked sitting out last year," DiFrancesco said. "It was rough but coming back for my last year I want to give it all I have and it was exciting today."
That is the way DiFrancesco plays. He was all over the outfield and was a key part in the Game 1 win while serving as a bridge to the top of the order from the No. 9 hole. His second-inning RBI single put Loyalsock (12-5) ahead to stay in the opener before Datres struck out eight and Phil Krizan closed out the championship.
"He's a kid that likes to have a lot of fun but when you put Nick on the field he always finds a way to get it done. He's a gamer," Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. "It breaks your heart to see him not able to play in the state championship. That burned real deep in him because he's a competitor. To be able to have him out and finishing his senior year strong is big for us."
Loyalsock (12-5) reached the final after Malone threw six strong innings in the Williamsport win. Billy Rummings threw a masterful 2-hit shutout and struck out 14 as South beat Montoursville, 4-0 and reached its first final since 2003.
Montoursville won a thrilling consolation game, 9-8 in eight innings, scoring three two-out runs to stun Williamsport. Freshman Brycen Mussina hit a walk-off, two-run single to left-center field as Montoursville (7-7) overcame two 3-run deficits before the eighth-inning dramatics.
"I was concerned because I was 0 for 3 before that," Mussina said. "I was a little worried waiting on-deck because I didn't know if I was going to be able to do it, but I'm glad I got the chance."
The championship was not as riveting as that consolation contest, but South (12-4) made things interesting in the sixth inning, fighting back from a 6-1 deficit. Anthony Caruso and Cody Nelson ignited a two-run rally with consecutive singles before Derek Wisner drew a two-out RBI walk and Nelson scored on a wild pitch.
Datres, though, induced an inning-ending grounder to the mound, ending the threat and stranding the tying runners. He entered with runners on the corners and one out while protecting a 3-1 lead third-inning lead and struck out eight in 3 2/3 innings. Krizan induced three grounders while working a perfect seventh and receiving a big bear hug from catcher Evan Moore.
Loyalsock scored three runs in the second and fourth innings to built a five-run lead. Combine that with the strong performance against Williamsport and the defending state champions appear to coming back strong after struggling at midseason. The emergence of Malone has been huge too and the left-hander improved to 3-1 while showing no nerves against Class AAAA Williamsport.
"Andrew Malone has been on fire this year," DiFrancesco said. "We really needed these two wins especially, against good teams like these. Getting these two wins will put us on track to where we need to be and where we were."
"We are coming together. We've had some adversity here and for the guys to come together is big," Eck said. "They're breaking down with "family," now and I know the guys are joking, but traditionally in the past we have relied on each other and played as a family and that's when we play our best baseball."
Rummings was spectacular in the day's first game, letting just one hit leave the infield and letting just one runner reach third. The left-hander overpowered Montoursville, worked he corners, mixed his pitches and consistently hit his spots.
The senior has been outstanding all season and Saturday was the third time Rummings has struck out at least 14 in a game. Still, this was his masterpiece thus far. He struck out the side four times and grew stronger as the game progressed.
"This is my first Brawl and I didn't think we were going to get it in and now that we did it's so much fun," Rummings said. "I couldn't wait. I saw it on the schedule at the beginning of the season and I was ready for it. As soon as I woke up today I felt great. Everything fell into place."
Rummings worked out of a sixth-inning jam, inducing a double play with runners on first and second and no outs before leaving a runner at third. South seized on that momentum, scoring four sixth-inning runs as Nick Mistretta hit a clutch two-run, single to right field, putting South ahead to stay.
The way Rummings was throwing, two runs seemed more like 20.
"That was a big-time performance," South coach Shawn Finn said. "He gives us a shot every time he's out. When he's on he's as good as anyone in District 4, maybe the state."
Montoursville and Williamsport played the game's most exciting game in the consolation. The Warriors are fighting for their playoff lives and overcame a 3-0 fourth-inning, 6-3 fifth-inning and 8-6 eighth-inning deficit to get a huge win.
Andrew Null threw seven gutty innings and Quinton Kuntz, who had 10 strikeouts in Game 1, went 3 for 3. Null was hit by a one-out pitch in the eighth before Kuntz ignited the two-out rally with a walk. After Devin Singer walked and a wild pitch scored Matt Shea while moving the runners into scoring position the stage was set for Mussina.
The freshman had experienced a tough day, striking out three times but embraced his opportunity and delivered what not only was a clutch hit, but possibly a season-saver for Montoursville.
"We got down a little bit but we had to keep it up. If we didn't we wouldn't have had a chance," Mussina said. "It's a lot of fun out there. That was big. It feels great."
South Williamsport 4, Montoursville 0
Montoursville 000 000 0-0 2 1
South 000 004 x-4 5 0
Billy Rummings and Derek Wisner. Quinton Kuntz and Cameron Ott. W-Rummings, (5-2). L-Kuntz, (3-3).
Top Montoursville hitters: Kuntz 1-2, BB; Curtis Miller 1-3. Top South hitters: Anthony Caruso 2-3; Nick Mistretta 1-3, 2 RBI; Riley Thomas 1-2, R.
Records: South 12-3.
Loyalsock 030 500 1-9 9 1
Williamsport 100 100 0-2 6 1
Andrew Malone and Evan Moore. Kyle Hoover, Davey Ludwikowski (4) and Damone Buxton. W-Malone, (3-1). L-Hoover, (1-1).
Top Loyalsock hitters: Jimmy Webb 3-3, 2 Bbs, 2 RBI, R; Moore 1-2, 2BBs; Nick DiFrancesco 3-3, RBI, 2 R; Kyle Datres 1-3, 2 RBI. Top Williamsport hitters: Ludwikowski; 2-3, 3B, 2 RBI; Noah Esposito 2-4, R; Ian Dinsmore 1-3, 2B, R.
Williamsport 120 030 02-8 8 1
Montoursville 000 330 03-9 9 2
Gabe Rader, Dinsmore (5) , Esposito (8) and Buxton. Null, Quinten Persun (8) and Ott. W-Persun, (1-0). L-Esposito, (0-2).
Top Williamsport hitters: Ludwikowski 1-5, 2B, RBI; Buxton 1-4, 2B, RBI; Isaac Foust 1-1, 2B, 3 Bbs, 2 R; Sam Engel 1-3, 2 R; Dinsmore 1-3, RBI; Evan Steele 1-4, 2 RBI. Top Montoursville hitters: Kuntz 3-3, 2 Bbs, 3 R; Persun 1-3, RBI; Devin Singer 1-3, RBI, 2 R; Brycen Mussina 1-4, walk-off, 2-run single; Nick Russo 1-2, 2 BBs.
Records: Montoursville 7-7. Williamsport 10-6.
South Williamsport 3
South 001 002 0-3 4 0
Loyalsock 120 300 x-6 4 0
Caleb Schmucker, Datres (3) and Moore. Thomas, Caruso (4) and Wisner, Pat West (6). W-Datres, (3-3). L-Thomas, (4-1). SV-Krizan, (1).
Top South hitters: Caruso 2-4, R; Carter Alexander 1-3, R. Top Loyalsock hitters: Datres 1-2, RBI; Krizan 1-3, 3B; Joey Balawajder 1-2, R; Tommy Baggett 1-3.
Records: Loyalsock 12-5. South 12-4.