The Backyard Brawl again provided a baseball lover's paradise Saturday. Four area teams with proud traditions played some great games, traded blows and made some stellar plays.
But where was everyone? The smaller crowd sizes was the only disappointment Saturday. The following is what they missed:
South Williamsport 4, Montoursville 0
Player of Game - Billy Rummings, South: The left-hander threw a brilliant two-hit shutout and struck out 14. Rummings has been outstanding all season but Saturday was his masterpiece. He overpowered Montoursville, beautifully worked the corners, mixed his pitches and struck out the side three times. Rummings also worked out of a first and second, no-out, sixth-inning jam against the heart of Montoursville's order to leave the bases loaded. He improved to 5-2 and has struck out 14 or more batters three times.
Montoursville Player of Game - Quinton Kuntz: The Montoursville pitcher was outstanding, too, and for much of the game it looked like it might head to extra innings scoreless. Kuntz threw a five-hitter and allowed only two earned runs, running his scoreless innings streak to 16 before South's four-run sixth. Kuntz allowed five hits or fewer for the fourth time in his six starts. He retired 13 straight at one point.
Dr. Masse's Top 5 Rankings
1. Jersey Shore (16-2)
Winning championships has become the norm at Jersey Shore. The Bulldogs captured their third straight HAC-I championship last week, winning four games and improving to 12-1 in the league. Jersey Shore has won a district and/or league title in nine straight seasons, a run no other District 4 program can touch during that span. The run is remarkable considering the program had produced just two winning seasons in the 21st century before the 2006 district title breakthrough season. Jersey Shore also clinched District 4's top Class AAA seed and will receive a bye to the championship if Mifflinburg (7-10) does not qualify. If the Wildcats do, Jersey Shore will face it in the semifinals.
2. Hughesville (14-3)
The Spartans are HAC-II champions for the first time, clinching a share of the title last Friday after beating Lewisburg, 5-2. Hughesville wins the title outright if it beats Shamokin in its final league game. Hughesville ended Loyalsock's five-year stranglehold on the title, beating it 2-1 in a 10-inning thriller last week. Justin Lambert and Tyler Mitcheltree combined on a two-hitter and did not allow a hit after the fourth inning. Including another strong effort against Lewisburg, Lambert and Mitcheltree allowed just six hits and three runs in 17 innings last week. The defending district champions have won seven straight and would be Class AA's top seed if the playoffs started today.
"The momentum right now is sky rocketing," Mitcheltree said. "This is where we want to be right now. We're peaking at the right time just like last year."
3. Loyalsock (12-5)
The Lancers opened their week with the heart-breaker at Hughesville but finished strong, winning four straight while starting to play some of their best baseball. Loyalsock is working its way up the district standings and if it can win out it might be able to vault some teams, improve its district seeding and earn a first-round bye which would be huge this season with so many strong teams in the field.
4. South Williamsport (12-4)
The Mounties might not have won the Brawl championship, but they have made huge strides this season. South has won 10 of its last 12 and appears as dangerous as anyone in District 4 Class AA, especially with Caruso and Riley Thomas throwing well behind Rummings.
"It's always awesome to prove people wrong, especially this year," Rummings said. "We lost almost everyone from last year and a lot of the players playing now don't have any varsity experience and nobody thought we were going to do anything this year. We just go out and play Mountie baseball."
5. Canton (16-2)
The Warriors have won nine straight, are getting healthier and are playing well as they head toward the postseason and try defending both their District 4 and Eastern Region Class A championships. Chase Pepper has been outstanding, going 6-1, John Bowman (4-0) has real good stuff and Garrett Wesneski is starting to pitch more after missing a lot of the season to injury.
Player of the week
Brody Smith, Jersey Shore
The junior second baseman delivered in all four wins, going 9 for 12 with three doubles and three RBIs. Smith had three multi-hit performances and had three hits against Shikellamy and Danville.
Game of the week
Jersey Shore at Montoursville
It always is entertaining when these rivals collide. Montoursville is the only HAC-I team that has beaten Jersey Shore the last two seasons and took Round 1, 6-3 two weeks ago. The Bulldogs will be out for revenge Thursday while the Warriors try to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Play of Game - Nick Mistretta's two-run single: The senior third baseman is a resilient player who has come back from numerous injuries the last few seasons and did not flinch after missing hitting a three-run double in the sixth. Instead, he came back the next pitch and ripped a two-run single into right field, putting South up 2-0.
Key moment - Top of 6th: Curtis Miller led off the inning with an infield single and Cameron Ott walked, putting two runners on and bringing up the heart of Montoursville's order in a scoreless game. Rummings, though, induced a double play ball from 2013 all-state selection Andrew Null. Following a hit batter to put runners on first and third, Rummings ended the threat by getting a flyout, and South built on the momentum in the bottom of the inning.
Quote of the Game - South coach Shawn Finn on Mistretta's big hit: "That's the sign of a good hitter. He's a senior and he's been battling a back injury all year for us. We brought him back slowly and put him in the nine-hole first and moved him to fifth to get him some chances with runners on base and he's doing a great job for us. That was a big hit there."
Loyalsock 9, Williamsport 2
Players of the Game - Jimmy Webb and Nick DiFrancesco, Loyalsock: The Loyalsock outfielders reached base a combined nine times and were never retired. Webb went 3 for 3 with two walks, two RBIs and a run scored. DiFrancesco went 3 for 3 with a walk, scored twice and dropped two perfect bunt singles.
Williamsport Player of the Game - Davey Ludwikowsi: The senior first baseman/pitcher went 2 for 3 with a triple and two RBIs. His first-inning triple gave Williamsport a brief 1-0 lead. He also pitched well in relief, allowing only one earned run in four innings.
Play of the Game - Evan Steele's robbery: The Williamsport right fielder made a tremendous first-inning catch, sprinting into shallow right and robbing Tommy Baggett of a two-out, RBI single.
Key moment - Andrew Malone moving to varsity: Malone was brought up to pitch after Luke Glavin suffered a season-ending injury. He has been outstanding thus far and shined on a big stage Saturday. The freshman left-hander improved to 3-1, scattering six hits in six innings and striking out five. He allowed just one run over his last five innings and has 19 strikeouts in his three starts, all wins.
Quote of the Game - Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck on his team's improvement: "We are getting back to where we need to be. Against Williamsport we were extremely close. We looked good."
Montoursville 9, Williamsport 8, 8 inns
Player of the Game - Quinton Kuntz: After excelling with his arm earlier, Kuntz delivered at the plate. The Montoursville third baseman reached base all five times, going 3 for 3 with two walks and three runs scored. His two-out walk with a runner on helped fuel a thrilling three-run, game-winning rally which might have saved Montoursville's season.
Williamsport Player of the Game - Isaac Foust: The senior designated hitter, like Kuntz, reached base every time. He went 1 for 1 with three walks, an RBI and two runs scored. Foust's lead-off double down the right-field line sparked Williamsport's two-run, eighth-inning rally. He reached base in his last six Brawl at-bats. Ian Dinsmore is a close second after pitching outstanding in relief, and Gabe Rader struck out 10 in 4 2/3 innings.
Play of the Game - Brycen Mussina's walk-off single: He was 0 for 3 with three strikeouts, but Mussina put all that in the past in the eighth inning and delivered the biggest hit of his young baseball career. The freshman first baseman drilled a 1-1 fastball into left-center field for a two-run, walk-off single which gave Montoursville the 9-8 win. Mussina showed a lot of maturity and poise during the at-bat and showed why his future appears bright.
Key moment - Andrew Null continuing to gut it out: Ok, that's not really one moment, but Null deserves a lot of credit for pitching seven gutty innings. The senior right-hander allowed only three earned runs, held Williamsport to five hits and retired the last eight batters he faced all while his pitch count soared. Null kept giving his team a chance to come back and win and was the game's unsung hero.
Stats of Game: Montoursville struck out 16 times but found a way to win. The Warriors struck out 30 times in two games but kept fighting back. Williamsport pitchers walked 10 batters for a second consecutive game, finishing the tournament with 20.
South Williamsport 3
Player of the Game - Kyle Datres, Loyalsock: The staff's ace entered with runners on the corners and one out in the third inning, protecting a 3-1 lead. He promptly struck out the first two batters he faced to stifle the rally and retired eight straight to start. He struck out eight in 3 2/3 innings. Datres, who also went 1 for 2 with a run and RBI, finished his week with 22 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
South Player of the Game - Anthony Caruso: The junior first baseman/pitcher's big season continued against Loyalsock as he went 2 for 3 with an RBI. Caruso also pitched outstanding in relief, throwing three hitless innings and retiring the last eight batters he faced.
Play of the Game - Datres eluding bases-loaded threat: South made a nice sixth-inning rally, scoring two runs off Datres and putting the tying runners on with two outs. Datres, though, forced an inning-ending grounder back to the mound and South's comeback ended.
Key moment - Robbie Klein's return: The 2013 all-state outfielder received a standing ovation prior to his first at-bat this season. Klein missed the season's first 16 games with a back injury but his return could be huge as the postseason approaches. While he went 0 for 3, Klein hit the ball hard his first time up and that is encouraging.
Quote of the Game - DiFrancesco on Loyalsock winning four straight after dealing with adversity, injuries and midseason losses: "We're starting to respond. We do adjust and that's what's nice about this team. We do know how to adjust and we know how to come back and win."
Nick DiFrancesco, Loyalsock
The senior center fielder was huge in Game 1, played well in Game 2 and did a lot of the little things that produce big results. He was a perfect bridge back to Datres and was terrific defensively.
C-Evan Moore, Loyalsock (1-4, RBI, robbed of two hits, three times he reached base, courtesy runner scored); IF-Anthony Caruso, South (4 for 7, RBI, R, 2 hits both games); IF-Quinton Kuntz, Montoursville (4 for 5, 4 walks, 3 R, .889 obp); IF-Kyle Datres, Loyalsock (2-5, 3 RBIs, R, SB); IF-Davey Ludwikowski, Williamsport (3-8, 3B, 2B, 3 RBIs); OF-Nick DiFrancesco, Loyalsock (3 for 5, 2 BBs, 2 R, RBI, .714 obp); OF-Jimmy Webb, Loyalsock (3 for 6, 3 RBIs, 2 R, .625 obp); OF-Nick Russo, Montoursville (.500 obp, 1 for 2, 2 BBs, RBI in consolation, strong defense) Utility-Isaac Foust, Williamsport (2 for 4, 2B, 3 BBS, 2 R); P-Billy Rummings, South (CG 2-hit shutout, 14 strikeouts)
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse for more high school baseball information.