Forgive this reporter for seeming like an instant historian but I cannot help but think this might be the best area baseball season in the last 20 years.
It makes for a debate but consider the following: The area produced a state champion in Loyalsock as well as District 4 champions in Class A, AA and AAA and a HAC-II champion in Hughesville. St. John Neumann reached its first district championship and Jersey Shore might have made a Class AAA state title run had an umpire not taken away a state quarterfinal win.
Year after this area produces outstanding teams and players. This is one of its best and this is a team that could compete against any Pennsylvania all-star team.
Billy Rummings held opponents to a .153 batting average as he went 6-3 with a 1.67 ERA.
Coach of the Year
Second runner-up (tie)-Ed Danneker, St. John Neumann and Shawn Finn, South Williamsport: Danneker led Neumann to both its first playoff win and its first district final. He has steadily built a program that once was a perennial punching bag, leading it to the postseason twice in the last three years after Neumann had endured 18 straight losing seasons. Finn did one of his best coaching jobs taking a young and injury-riddled team to the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals. South finished 13-7, was four outs from reaching the semifinals and came a long way for a team with just three returning starters. Finn also won his 200th career game and leads all active coaches with 212 wins.
First runner-up-Steve Waldman and Matt O'Brien, Jersey Shore: The two share this honor after leading Jersey Shore to the best season in program history. Waldman took over as head coach when O'Brien, the coach the last three seasons, had to leave for New York for 16 days when his son Declan was fighting for his life. Declan has recovered well, O'Brien returned and together, he and Waldman, helped Jersey Shore win a program-record 21 games and capture a fourth straight District 4 championship and a third straight HAC-I title. The Bulldogs would have reached the state semifinals for the first time had an umpire not botched the final play against Tamaqua and the two guided a deep, talented and determined team.
And the winner is...Jeremy Eck, Loyalsock: How Eck did what he did is remarkable considering the circumstances. Eck's mother Brenda battled cancer the entire season and was told two weeks into the season she had a week to live. Eck soldiered on, though, showing his team a lot and helping it rally from an 8-5 start to capture a second straight Class AA state championship. Eck displayed a lot of courage and the way his team fought for him shows how it feels about the fifth-year coach. Loyalsock won its last 15 games and tied the program-record for wins set last year. In five seasons, Eck already has won 100 games and Loyalsock is one of only three Class AA programs to ever repeat as state champions.
Honorable Mention: Casey Waller, Hughesville; Bob Rockwell, Canton: Travis Wurster, Montoursville; Bill Probst, Bucktail; Tom Persing, Montgomery; Chris Persing, Muncy
Pitcher of the Year
First runner-up-Justin Lambert, Hughesville: The hard-throwing right-hander put together a fourth straight outstanding season, closing out his scholastic career in impressive fashion. The ace of the HAC-II champions, Lambert went 7-2 with a 1.99 ERA while striking out 59 in 45 2/3 innings. Lambert twice beat Loyalsock and finished with 20 career wins and eight saves, milestones that are a testament to his consistency. Lambert held opponents to a .199 batting average and between last year and this year through 24 straight playoff innings without allowing an earned run.
And the winners are...Kyle Datres, Loyalsock and Billy Rummings, South Williamsport: Datres earned a share of this award after pitching as well as anyone can throughout a postseason. The junior right-hander was a force, going 6-0, winning all four state tournament games and striking out 46 in 40 innings. Datres threw his second straight complete-game in a state final and improved to 11-0 lifetime in the playoffs. Datres finished 8-2 with a 1.10 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings. Just as impressive he allowed only 32 hits and is now 22-3 in three seasons.
Rummings had one of the best seasons in South history and was untouchable most of the season. The senior left-hander never allowed more than six hits in a game and allowed three hits or fewer in each of his last six starts. Rummings finished 6-3 with a 1.67 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings. He held opponents to a .153 batting average and struck out at least 10 in a game five times. He was outstanding in big games and threw a two-hitter against Bloomsburg in the district quarterfinals while striking out 10 in a win over HAC-II champion Hughesville. Rummings threw his masterpiece at the Backyard Brawl, pitching a two-hit shutout against Montoursville while striking out 14.
Player of the Year
Second runner-up-Justin Lambert, Hughesville: The four-year starter leaves Hughesville as one of its all-time best players. He was just as valuable at the plate and in the field as he was on the mound, earning first team HAC-II honors at both positions. Lambert hit a team-best .431 with six doubles and 20 runs while helping Hughesville go 17-4. He was part of a senior class that won a program-record 64 games and helped Hughesville capture its first district and HAC-II championships, often working out at 6 a.m. along with his teammates to raise the bar.
First runner-up-Zach Miller, Jersey Shore: Miller wore out opposing pitchers and had one of the best offensive seasons in Jersey Shore history. The junior first baseman/left fielder hit .508 with an area-high seven home runs and 35 RBIs. He also compiled a .561 on-base percentage, belted seven doubles and produced 12 multi-hit games. Miller homered twice in a game and had a .969 slugging percentage. He combined with Christian Rishel to give Jersey Shore the district's best power combination. Together the two belted 10 home runs and drove in 65 runs.
And the winner is...Kyle Datres, Loyalsock: Combining his pitching, hitting, running, defense and value to the team, Datres should be a runaway winner for Class AA State Player of the Year. He again ignited Loyalsock's offense from the leadoff position and hit .437 with a .561 on-base percentage. Datres hit a team-high three home runs, drove in 23 runs and scored a team-high 36 runs while stealing 18 bases. Datres and teammate Jimmy Webb already have topped 100 hits in just three years and Datres went 3 for 3 in the state final against previously undefeated Central. The North Carolina-bound shortstop has hit .400 or higher for three straight seasons and has scored 67 times during Loyalsock's two state championship seasons.
Starting Lineup: 1. Kyle Datres, IF, Loyalsock; 2. Jimmy Webb, OF, Loyalsock (.482, .610 obp, HR, 8 2B, 2 3B, 24 RBI, 28 R, 16-16 SBs, 4 straight 2-hit state games, more than 100 career hits); 3. Christian Rishel, OF, Jersey Shore (.425, .456 obp, 3 HR, 3 3B, 6 2B, 30 RBI, 23 R); 4. Zach Miller, OF, Jersey Shore; 5. Anthony Caruso, IF, South Williamsport (.525, 5 HR, 8 2B, 21 RBI, 16 R, .901 slugging); 6. Dawson Prough, IF, Wellsboro (.596, .619 obp, 4 HR, 1 3B. 13 2B, 23 RBI, 22 R, hit safely in 17 of 18 games, Sun-Gazette batting champion); 7. Ryan Reid, DH, St. John Neumann (.441, .487 obp, 9 2B, 2 3B, 24 RBI, 19 R, 11-11 SBs, 1st team HAC-III); 8. Brett Reitz, C, Hughesville (.310, 20 RBIs, threw out 13-18 basestealers, 1st team HAC-II); 9. Colton Potter, IF, Jersey Shore (.451, .489 obp, 37 H, 11 2B, 1 3B, 21 RBI, 27 R, great defense, just 2 ks)
Starting Rotation: Billy Rummings, South Williamsport; Kyle Datres, Loyalsock; Justin Lambert, Hughesville; Chase Pepper, Canton (9-2, 1.00 ERA, 95 Ks, 8 ERs, 26 Ks, 3 H, in 12 district IP); Marcus Bartlett, Montgomery (6-3, 1.37 ERA, 7 CGs, 2 SHOs, 1 no-hitter, 64 1/3 IP, 34 H, 57 Ks, .183 average against, 6 straight wins)
Bullpen: Ken Koch, Muncy (5-2, 1.41 ERA, 3 CGs, 44 2/3 IP, 33 H, 77 Ks, 200 avg. against, 1st team HAC-III); Davey Ludwikowski, Williamsport (6-1, 1.71 ERA, 41 IP, 31 H, 39 Ks, .209 BA); Quinton Kuntz, Montoursville (4-4, 3.88 ERA, 43 1/3 IP, 46 Ks, 1-hitter vs Milton, 2-hitter vs Bloomsburg, 3-hitter vs Jersey Shore); Michael Schoonmaker, Jersey Shore (4-0, 0.62 ERA, 34 IP, 22 H, 30 Ks, 2-0 in districts, 3 H, 0 ER in 11 2/3 IP); Tyler Mitcheltree, Hughesville (1-1, 1.05 ERA, 33 1/3 IP, 31 Ks, .137 BA); Chuck Probst, Bucktail (4-1, 1.47 ERA, 33 1/3 IP, 13 H, 68 Ks)
First Team Reserves: Joey Balawajder, OF, Loyalsock (.418, .500 obp, 6 2B, 1 3B, 15 RBI, 25 R, 9 SBs, 1st team HAC-II); Noah Beiter, OF, St. John Neumann (.371,.466 obp, 1 3B, 5 2B, 15 RBI, 14 R, 6 SBs, 1st team HAC-III); Maurice Brown, OF, Muncy (.338, .423 obp, 26 R, 11 RBIs, HR, 2 2Bs, 17-17 SBs, 1st team HAC-III); Brady Chappell, C, Milton (.361, .473 obp, 5 2B, 15 RBI, 11 R, .985 fielding); Ian Dinsmore, IF, Williamsport (.379, .403 obp, 2 HR, 2 3B, 7 2B, 20 RBI, 11 R); Noah Esposito, IF, Williamsport (.411, 17 R, 6 RBI, .470 obp, 7 SB); Thomas Goetz, IF, Montgomery (.500, .594 obp, 27 H, 23 R, 11 RBI, 8 2B, 7-7 SBs, 10-game hitting streak); Brady Kimble, OF, Hughesville (.409, 12 SBs, 0 errors last 2 years, 1st team HAC-II); Corey Kriner, OF, Milton (.350, .473 obp, 4 2B, 9 RBI, 11 R); T.J. Moyle, C, Muncy (.302, .400 obp, 4 HR, 3B, 3 2B, 25 RBI, 18 R, .976 fielding, 1st team HAC-III); Andrew Null, IF, Montoursville (.362, .494 obp, 2 HR, 6 2B, 1 3B, 19 R, 8 RBI, 1st team HAC-I); Brody Smith, IF, Jersey Shore (.400, .453 obp, 15 RBI, 30 R); Garrett Wesneski, IF, Canton (.446, 29 RBI, 22 R)
Second Team: Richard Allen, IF, Neumann (.403, .493 obp, HR, 3B, 8 2B, 9 RBI, 26 R, 10-10 SBs); Tommy Baggett, IF, Loyalsock (.294, .381 obp, 4 2B, 27 RBI, 18 R); John Bowman, P, Canton (6-0, 42 2/3 IP, 75 Ks); Nick DiFrancesco, OF, Loyalsock (.311, .455 obp, 5 2B, 7 RBI, 16 R, 5 SB, 1st team HAC-II); Derrick Evans, OF, Montoursville (.377, .485 obp, 6 2B, 10 RBI); Dylan Hamm, P, Jersey Shore (5-0, 1 SV, 2.25 ERA, 37 1/3 IP, 29 H, 29 Ks); Eric Huling, C, Jersey Shore (.328, .369, 13 RBI, 10 R); Phil Krizan, IF, Loyalsock (.303, 3 2B, 18 RBI, 21 R, 22 BBs, great defense); Andrew Malone, P, Loyalsock (5-1, 2 SVs, 2.31 ERA, 28 2/3 IP, 48 Ks, 2-0 in districts); Jake Miller, P, Montgomery (3-1, 1.08 ERA, 26 IP, 10 H, 35 Ks); Evan Moore C, Loyalsock (.268, .388 obp, 5 2B, 9 RBI, threw out 3-3 runners in state final); Brandon Owlett, IF, Wellsboro (.393, .506 obp, 5 RBI, 23 R, 21 SBs); Dylan Prough, OF, Wellsboro (.333, .371 obp, 5 2B, 15 RBI, 18 R); Trent Risley, IF, Bucktail (.420, .640 obp, HR, 3 2B, 3B, 12 SB, 28 RBI, 23 R); Trevor Route, IF, Canton (.431, 5 2B, 11 RBI, 24 R); Tony Saltsman, IF, Bucktail (.423, .620 obp, HR, 8 2B, 8 SB, 22 RBI, 17 R); Evan Steele, OF, Williamsport (.400, .438 obp, 4 2B, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 7 R); Cody Stryker, P, Hughesville (6-0, 2.08 ERA)
Second runner-up-Travis Bradley, Jersey Shore: The sophomore made a statement when he shutout Hughesville last year and took a big step foward this season. Bradley led Jersey Shore in wins, going 6-1 with two saves and a 3.36 ERA. Jersey Shore loses three strong starters to graduation so Bradley could be the ace in 2015. He threw well in a state playoff win over Abington Heights and struck out 26 in 33 1/3 innings pitched.
First runner-up: Devin Singer, Montoursville: The junior second baseman shined in his first season starting and emerged as one of Montoursville's most consistent hitters. Singer hit .350 and was especially strong down the stretch as Montoursville overcame a 1-5 start and reached districts despite having to play 14 games in the last 17 days after poor field conditions prevented it from playing its second game until late April. During a late-season two-game stretch against Jersey Shore and District 6 Class AAAA finalist Central Mountain, Singer went 4 for 6 with five RBIs.
And the winner is...Evan Steele, Williamsport: The sophomore right fielder also came on strong down the stretch and is outstanding defensively. Steele covers a lot of ground and has a nice arm. Oh yeah, he can hit too. Steele hit .400 with a home run, four doubles and 13 RBIs despite not becoming a full-time starter until later in the season. Steele hit a game-changing three-run home run in a 5-3 win over Shikellamy and also was instrumental to Williamsport's 4-1 district quarterfinal win over Wallenpaupack, going 2 for 3.
Other underclassmen to watch in 2015: Isaac Beiter, St. John Neumann; John Bowman, Canton; Alec Fantaskey, Williamsport; Zach Fry, Hughesville; Dylan Gordon, Montgomery; Nick Grieco, St. John Neumann; Gage Heller, Milton; Levi Lorson, Jersey Shore; Bryce Merrill, South Williamsport; Brycen Mussina, Montoursville; Cody Nelson, South Williamsport; Sean Poust, Hughesville; Zach Shadle, Montgomery; Larry Van Stavoren, Loyalsock