Hughesville coach Casey Waller was talking about his team competing with, and often beating, some of District 4's best teams over the last two seasons. He started rattling off the teams, mentioned Jersey Shore and then paused.
The Bulldogs could not be crossed off the list.
"Jersey Shore is in a different league this year," Waller said. "Those guys are solid one through nine this year and have a strong pitching staff."
Members of the Jersey Shore baseball team celebrate following the end of an inning against Midd-West last week.
Waller is right, too. Especially as it pertains to District 4 Class AAA, Jersey Shore is, and has been, in another league over the last four years. The Bulldogs captured their fourth consecutive district championship last Wednesday, blanking Midd-West, 4-0, while earning a spot against District 2 champion Abington Heights in today's state tournament opener at Bowman Field.
Think about that for a second. Jersey Shore (20-2) has won four straight championships in one of the state's deepest districts. Its seniors will graduate not knowing what it feels to like to go without a district championship. Winning one is impressive, doing it four straight times is remarkable.
"I think most of it comes from all the work everyone puts into it and us playing really well together," catcher Eric Huling said after going 2 for 3 in the final. "Everybody has a job and everybody has been doing it. Everyone knows their role on the team. We have great team chemistry."
Scouting Abington Heights
How they got here: beat Tunkhannock, 4-0; Coughlin, 7-2; Valley View, 6-3 and Berwick, 7-2
Notes: Abington Heights edged Jersey Shore in 9 innings last year. Dave Manasek and Tyler Ksiazek scattered nine hits in that game and both are back and having strong years. Manasek, a right-hander who utlilizes multiple arm angles, is 7-0 with a 0.28 ERA and 71 strikeouts. Ksiazek, who scored the winning run last year and is hitting .429, is 5-2 with a 1.66 ERA and 56 strikeouts. Abington Heights has won seven straight and avenged two previous losses when it beat Valley View in the district semifinals. Manasek threw a complete-game in the final against Berwick, striking out seven and walking three. Eight players combined for 11 hits in that win and Abington Heights finished the tournament with 38 hits in four games. Brad Smertz went 3 for 3 against Berwick and Eric Salerno is hitting .361 while Jimmy Fayocavitz is hitting .346.
Winner plays: District 11 champion Tamaqua or District 12 runner-up Franklin Towne
This is a brilliant stretch and do not let potential naysayers tell you otherwise. Some have said Jersey Shore has never had to win more than two games to win those championships and has been the top seed all four times.
True and true. However, the Bulldogs earned those top seeds by battering District 4 competition, winning at least 18 games in the past three seasons. They have also beaten all four championship opponents three times each, laughing in the face of the adage that it is difficult defeating a team three times.
Also think about this: Over the last three seasons, Jersey is 55-9-1, including 39-3 in the HAC-I. And it has dominated not only Class AAA, but also Class AA, sweeping 2011 state semifinalist Danville in 2011, mercy-ruling District 4 champion Loyalsock in 2012 and blanking 2013 district champion Hughesville, 7-0. For good measure, Jersey Shore downed Class AAAA Williamsport, 10-1, earlier this season.
Put Jersey Shore in any classification the last four seasons and it could still be four-time defending champions. The Bulldogs have taken on all comers and beaten them all. The roster has changed here and there but the results have not. Jersey Shore is a district dynasty and has achieved something which future District 4 teams will struggle to match.
"One through nine and all the way down, even with the JVs, they all want to work hard and do what they have to do to help us win," Jersey Shore coach Steve Waldman said. "We tell them to come out and compete, come out and play hard and that's what they do."
Jersey Shore has built one of District's best programs over the last decade. Since 2006 it has won a league and/or district championship every season, an accomplishment no other program can match. The Bulldogs have won 14 or more games in eight of those seasons and have the second-highest winning percentage among district teams during that time.
Not that the Bulldogs are satisfied. They are a district dynasty but now they want to make a statewide splash. Jersey Shore reached the state quarterfinals in 2006 and 2013 but has not gone farther. This team already has set a program record with 20 wins and now wants to make some more history.
That is one reason why, although excited after winning another district title last Wednesday, Jersey Shore players already were looking ahead. That is why before answering a question about the game just played, Huling directed his response another way.
"We just want to get the next one," he said. "We want to take this one game at a time and that's what we have to focus on right now."
Jersey Shore lost to state finalists Tunkhannock and Lampeter Strasburg in 2011 and 2012 before dropping a nine-inning heartbreaker to Abington Heights last year. The Comets reached the state semifinals and Jersey Shore was left to wonder what if?
Now, the Bulldogs do not have to wonder anymore. They have the chance they covet. Jersey Shore has become one of District 4's greatest Class AAA dynasties. Now it seeks another mountain to climb. They want people statewide to realize something the rest of District 4 has learned so often.
These guys can play.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter for more high school baseball information at @docmasse.