Andrew Malone followed Loyalsock's state championship run last June as a spectator. That was required. Malone was only an eighth-grader.
But truth be told, when the 2014 season started Malone thought he probably would again be watching Loyalsock go after another state championship.
Malone earned a varsity roster spot but was buried behind pitchers like Kyle Datres, Luke Glavin and Robbie Klein. If he was fortunate, maybe Malone would receive a few innings here and there.
Andrew Malone, left, talks with Loyalsock catcher Evan Moore during his two-inning stint Monday in the PIAA?first round.
Then Klein suffered a back injury. Then Glavin suffered a blood clot in his arm and had season-ending surgery. Suddenly, Malone was near the top of the staff. Suddenly Loyalsock's season hinged a lot on how he could perform.
The Lancers are still playing. They are one of eight teams remaining in the Class AA field and play Notre Dame-Green Pond in Thursday's state quarterfinals. Yes, the young kid can pitch. The view now is a lot better.
"When they got injured I finally got an opportunity but I was thinking maybe an inning or two, but I never thought it would be anything this big," Malone said after throwing two solid innings in Monday's 6-1 state tournament win over Bald Eagle Area. "I never thought I would be playing with those guys. I've just had to do what's best for the team and these guys have had my back and supported me and whenever you have the overall support of everyone there's nothing better."
After Glavin was injured, Loyalsock needed pitchers and needed them fast. No Lancer other than Datres threw a varsity inning entering the season.
Enter Malone. The freshman left-hander immediately started stabilizing things. He is 5-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 29 innings.
"We lost Luke and we lost Ethan (Moore) from last year so we knew we had to have some different pitchers step up and replace them for this year," said Datres, 3-0 this postseason. "He (Malone) stepped in and has filled his role and that's all we can ask of him."
On a team filled with returning starters and Division I prospects, Malone has become one of the team's most valuable players. He is 2-0 this postseason and his emergence was a big reason coach Jeremy Eck felt confident having him replace Datres after he had thrown five no-hit innings against BEA.
Eck also did not envision Malone having a major impact in 2014. He had watched Malone throw well over the summer while helping the West End 14-15 year old all-stars capture a state championship but saw bigger things on the horizon come 2015 and beyond.
Instead, he gave Malone the ball against Shamokin in Game No. 9 and watched Malone immediately cash in on his opportunity. That day while throwing in a steady rain, Malone threw a five-inning one-hitter and struck out 12. A few days later, Eck went back to Malone who allowed no runs in five innings of a 4-3 win over Warrior Run.
Malone then started pitching against playoff teams like Central Columbia and Hughesville, performing well while showing his time could be now. Eck gave Malone the ball against Williamsport at the Backyard Brawl and the left-hander responded by allowing just two runs in a 9-2 win. Suddenly, a preseason varsity afterthought was showing he was ready for the big-time.
"He's a great kid, hard-working and very respectful but I think he came in thinking he'd throw a little bit this season. We knew he would get some time this year, but until Luke went down he didn't throw any innings," Eck said. "It shows how much confidence we have in him as a pitching staff and a program to throw a freshman out there in big games and know he will get it done."
Loyalsock trusted Malone to perform in its first playoff game, giving him the start against Wellsboro. The Lancers turned to him again in the district final against Bloomsburg. Malone did not have his best stuff in those games but he did enough to win and came up especially big against Bloomsburg when he stranded the bases loaded in the first inning, preventing what could have been a big Panther rally.
These are huge spots for a seasoned senior, let alone a freshman experiencing the playoffs for the first time. Malone, though, knows he does not have to do things by himself. Glavin, among others, has helped him every step of the way and their confidence has given Malone a big boost.
"Every inning I come in they're always patting me on the back. They're great guys," Malone said. "It gives me a lot of confidence because I've trusted them before and they trust me. It's awesome. When they trust me it makes me feel a lot better on the mound because I can throw a lot better."
Malone pitched well against BEA, working a perfect sixth inning and stranding two runners in the seventh. The Eagles took advantage of an error to score their only run on a sacrifice fly and had two on with one out.
One big hit and BEA could be right back in the game. Malone remained unfazed and ended the threat, inducing a pop-up and a game-ending groundout. It was a clutch performance and also the kind Loyalsock has come to expect from its rapidly maturing freshman.
"For Malone to come out and have a little bit of adversity with runners on and work through it is great," Eck said. "He could have lost his head there but he kept it and did a great job for us."
The book on 2014 Loyalsock baseball continues being written. And Malone continues providing quite an intriguing chapter.