Doctors told Brenda Eck more than a month ago she had a week to live. Friday she was still fighting, still battling and she gave her son, Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck, a specific request.
Win her a championship.
Brenda never missed a game while Eck played at Montoursville and Bloomsburg University and Eck welled up in the fifth inning last night looking down the third-base line and not seeing her there. Brenda has terminal cancer, but continues giving her son and his team strength. And they continue epitomizing her spirit.
Loyalsock High School celebrates its District 4 Class AA championship win over Bloomsburg Friday night at Bowman Field.
In a season filled with adversity, with enough twists and turns to make Stephen King blush, Loyalsock once again has climbed District 4's summit. They once again are the district's best Class AA team.
Phil Krizan pitched the game of his life in relief, Bailey Young and Evan Moore hit key fifth-inning RBI doubles and Loyalsock defeated Bloomsburg, 7-4 Friday at Bowman Field in a wild game to capture its fifth district championship in seven seasons.
"This is the biggest game of my life right here because of the situation with my mom. This is going to be her last district title game and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to come out and have us win another one for my mom," Eck said. "To overcome everything we have gone through and come out on top is just a testament to the boys and their competitive nature and their love for the game and the way they go about their business."
Loyalsock is state tournament bound for a third straight season and faces District 6 runner-up Bald Eagle Area at Bowman Field Monday. The Lancers earned that spot the hard way, overcoming the early-season loss of Duke-bound pitcher Luke Glavin, the loss of a coach and a midseason funk that threatened to derail the defending state champions.
Just when it seemed like everything was ready to implode, Loyalsock (19-5) responded and played some of its best baseball. The Lancers have won 11 straight and are right back where they wanted to be come June.
"We fought through a lot of adversity last year and got the ultimate goal and this year we come back and went through even more," said Krizan, who did not allow an earned run in 3 2/3 innings while striking out four. "It just shows everybody how resilient we are. We're never going to quit. We're always going to come back and are always going to play good baseball and give a team a challenge."
"We just refused to give up. We had a tough first half of the year with a lot of negatives, a lot of controversy but it only brought us together as a team," third baseman Joey Balawajder said. We're going to keep battling. We're going to find a way to get it done."
It seemed fitting that Loyalsock had to win the championship how it did Friday. The game was a microcosm of the entire season as Loyalsock made a season-high five errors, struggled to drive runners in early and trailed 2-1 after three innings.
Loyalsock started a pitcher, Andrew Malone, who was in junior high last year, and replaced him with Krizan, who never threw a varsity inning prior to 2014. And again they prevailed. Again, they kept fighting back and answering challenges.
"That's the way we always play. Sometimes things go down but we always find a way to come back," said Moore, who played an excellent game behind the plate. "After all the talk that came up and different people doubting us and losing some of those games earlier in the season, we came back and this will pump us up and keep us going."
Balawajder (2 for 3) ignited a three-run fourth-inning rally that put Loyalsock ahead to stay, 4-2, hitting a leadoff double and scoring on Moore's RBI single. Pinch-runner Michael LaPoint scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch with two outs before Kyle Datres did his best Ricky Henderson impersonation and stole second, third and home.
Bloomsburg (18-5) threatened to regain the lead in the bottom of the fourth, pulling within 4-3 on Colby Klingerman's RBI single and loading the bases with two outs. Krizan entered and, after intentionally walking Evan Ball, faced Stanford-bound Colton Hock. The senior delivered some of his best pitches, striking out Hock on four pitches and freezing him with a fastball on the outside corner.
"I did think about that (Hock going to Stanford) for a moment. I got put in this situation against Wellsboro and went up against their best hitter and was able to strike him out and I came in with a lot of confidence," Krizan said. "The coaches put faith in me and I have an amazing defense behind me and all I have to do is throw strikes and I know they'll make plays for me."
Every time Bloomsburg rallied over those last four innings, Loyalsock responded. It happened again in the fifth as Balawajder walked, stole second and scored on Young's double to deep center field. Moore followed with another RBI double to push the lead to 6-3. Bloomsburg scored again in the bottom of the fifth but Krizan stranded a runner at third before Tommy Baggett hit a sixth-inning RBI single and made it 7-4.
Krizan retired Bloomsburg's dangerous top of the lineup in order in the sixth but a one-out error and a Cole Streater single put the tying run at the plate with one out in the seventh. Loyalsock again was up against the wall and again responded with gusto. Krizan induced a pop-out to second base, then threw two quick strikes to Coty Kashner. With Loyalsock fans rising and stomping their feet along the third-base side, Kashner hit a soft liner that Datres caught in shallow center field.
Krizan threw his glove about 20 yards in delight after Datres secured the catch and Loyalsock players shook hands and shared hugs.
"One through nine we have fighters," Balawajder said. "We have guys who will stop at nothing to ensure a victory for us. These guys are unbelievable."
Loyalsock is not satisfied and is eager to try and defend its state championship. Still, holding that district championship plaque high meant more than words could describe. This game, this season, this championship is special.
This is for Brenda Eck.
Loyalsock 100 321 0-7 6 5
Bloomsburg 002 110 0-4 10 4
Andrew Malone and Evan Moore. Colby Klingerman and Cole Streater. W-Malone, (5-1). L-Klingerman. SV-Krizan, (2).
Top Loyalsock hitters: Moore 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Joey Balawajder 2-3 2B, BB, 2 R; Bailey Young 2B, RBI, R; Kyle Datres 2 R, 3 SBs; Jimmy Webb 3 BBs. Top Bloomsburg hitters: Klingerman 3-4, RBI, R; Evan Ball 2-3, 2 2Bs, RBI, R; Ricky Klingerman 2-3, RBI, R.
Records: Loyalsock 19-5. Bloomsburg 18-5.