It really no longer is news when area baseball teams make state championship runs. It is news when they do not.
At least one area baseball team has reached the state's Final 4 since 2008 with Loyalsock winning three Class AA state championships, Canton reaching the 2013 Class A state final and Montgomery reaching the 2012 Class A state final. This clearly is one of the state's best baseball areas.
And the rest of the state has noticed.
Twelve players, including four first-teamers, recently earned Pennsylvania High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state honors. Two players from Jersey Shore and two from state champion Loyalsock earned first team honors after helping those teams win 44 combined games. Add in Loyalsock's Tommy Baggett and Central Mountain's Zach Skritch being selected to play in the Big 26 all-star game next month in Altoona featuring the state's best underclassmen and the area continues making a statewide impact.
The following is a look at this year's area selections.
Zach Miller, Jersey Shore: The junior first baseman earned first team honors as a corner infielder after having one of the most productive seasons in program history. Miller hit .508 with a district-high seven home runs and 35 RBIs. He also delivered 12 multi-hit games and homered twice in a game two times. Miller was a force throughout the season and helped Jersey Shore romp to a fourth straight District 4 Class AAA championship. The scary thought for future opponents is that Miller has one year remaining.
Colton Potter, Jersey Shore: A four-year starter and one of the best shortstops Jersey Shore has ever produced, Potter was the player that brought it all together for a team that went 21-3. A middle infield selection, Potter produced big numbers but even better leadership and was a big reason, the Bulldogs were as cohesive as they were talented. Potter hit .451 with 21 RBIs and 27 runs while striking out just twice. His 2-out, 2-strike RBI triple kept Jersey Shore's hopes alive in the state quarterfinals against Tamaqua and that at-bat was indicative of Potter's career as he consistently elevated his play when it mattered most.
Christian Rishel, Jersey Shore: Part of a dynamic lineup, Rishel hit between Potter and Miller and put together his second straight outstanding campaign. The senior outfielder hit .425 with three home runs, six doubles and 30 RBIs while scoring 23 runs. He was one of the district's best run producers the last two years.
Kyle Datres, Loyalsock: Good luck finding a player in any classification more valuable to his team. Datres, a middle infield selection for the second time in three years, hit .437 with three home runs, with a district-high 36 runs and 23 RBIs. He also went 8-2 with a 1.10 ERA and struck out 95 while allowing only 32 hits in 72 2/3 innings. Datres went 6-0 with a 0.60 ERA in states, winning four straight state tournament games, striking out 46 in 40 innings. Datres should have been selected as Class AA Player of the Year but voters seemed blinded by Neumann-Goretti first baseman Josh Ockimey's draft status. Ockimey was drafted in the fifth round by the Boston Red Sox, but Datres had a higher batting average, as many home runs, more runs and more stolen bases. And, oh yeah, he pitched great whereas Ockimey never left first base.
Jimmy Webb, Loyalsock: The junior right fielder is the first three-time all-state selection this reporter has covered in 15 years. Webb again was instrumental to Loyalsock repeating as state champions, hitting .482 while compiling a .610 on-base percentage, driving in 24 runs and scoring 28. Webb made just one error and stole 16 bases. He has been one of the area's best big-game performers the last three seasons and delivered four straight two-hit state playoff games, hitting a game-breaking triple in the state final. Webb will play at Wake Forest in 2016 and is Loyalsock's all-time leader in hits with more than 100.
Anthony Caruso, South Williamsport: The junior first baseman was selected as a corner infielder and had a huge breakout season. Caruso hit .525 with five home runs, eight doubles and 21 RBIs. Miller was the only area player to hit more home runs and Caruso also pitched well while helping a young team that lost six starters go 13-7 and reach the district quarterfinals.
Joey Balawajder, Loyalsock: The junior third baseman was a huge addition, solidifying the middle of Loyalsock's lineup and hitting .418 with a .500 on-base percentage. Balawajder had key hits in both the state semifinals and championship and scored 25 runs while earning first team HAC-II all-star honors.
Billy Rummings, South Williamsport: The senior left-hander had one of the best seasons in South's rich history and was dominant all season. Rummings went 6-3 with a 1.67 ERA and struck out 95 in 58 2/3 innings. He held opponents to a .153 batting average and struck out 10 or more in a game five times while allowing three hits or fewer in each of his last six starts.
Kenny Koch, Muncy: The junior pitcher earned all-state honors for a second straight year after going 5-2 with a 1.41 ERA. Koch dominated the last two seasons and his ERAs of have been below 1.50 each time. Koch struck out 77 in 44 2/3 innings, let opponents hit just .200 and was a first team HAC-III all-star.
Tyler Melko, Cowanesque Valley: The junior earned second-team honors as a corner infielder after hitting .450 with two home runs and 14 RBIs. He also had a .511 on-base percentage.
Ryan Reid, St. John Neumann: Reid helped Neumann reach its first district championship, hitting .441 with nine doubles, 24 RBIs, 19 runs and 11 stolen bases. He also shined on the mound, throwing a no-hitter in a district quarterfinal win at Bucktail, Neumann's first-ever playoff win.
Brandon Whitesell, Cowanesque Valley: The senior made a huge comeback, hitting .371 after breaking his ankle late in October while playing football.
A final note about this all-state team. While the players chosen deserve those honors, huge flaws remain in this selection process. If a school does not have a coach who is involved with the Baseball Coaches Association, those teams are ignored which is flat-out stupid when calling something an all-state team. That is why players from Canton (2013 state finalist, 2014 quarterfinalist and winner of 45 games in 2 years has had no players selected the last two years).
The spotlight is shining bright on this rich baseball area. But when it comes to picking these teams the work remains unfinished.
- Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter for more high school baseball information at @docmasse