The two-hour trip might as well have been a walk to the local field. The Potter McKean fans do not care about distances at this point. They have traveled in force to Montoursville every day since last Saturday, swarming the bleachers in a sea of blue and white.
Tuesday, they witnessed quite a show.
Potter McKean scored 11 first-inning runs and smashed six home runs at Montoursville as it defeated the host team, 24-3 in four innings and forced a winner-take-all game for the Section 3 championship tonight back at Montoursville. All 11 Potter McKean players delivered at least one hit. The team finished with 17.
Logan Ott of Montoursville is tagged out by Potter McKean’s Howie Stuckey on a chase between first and second bases during the second inning Tuesday at Montoursville. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"It's rewarding. It's unbelievable how this group (the fans) keeps going with us," Potter McKean coach Shane VanWhy said. "To do what we did tonight, I wouldn't have dreamed it."
Few would have.
Montoursville entered last night's game undefeated and had outscored six opponents, including Potter McKean, 83-13. The District 15 champions, however, immediately put Montoursville in a precarious situation, scoring 11 two-out runs before the hosts came to bat. Montoursville was one strike from escaping the inning unscathed but Preston Cobb lined a three-run home run over the center-field fence and Potter McKean just kept hitting from there.
Twelve consecutive two-out batters reached base with seven doing so via hits. Gavin Babcock (2 HRs, 5 RBIs) added another three-run home run that made it 10-0 and Blake Burgett capped the eruption with an RBI single before right fielder Dylan Moll made a terrific throw to retire the lead runner at third.
"As a team, hitting up to this point we haven't had that. It was either 1/3 or 2/3 of the lineup and today it was everybody. It was unbelievable," VanWhy said. "It's one of those things that when you have two outs you still have that other out to live with and you just keep plugging away."
Despite the loss, Montoursville is right where it wants to be. Whether it lost by one or 21, Montoursville still has a shot to win the Section 3 championship and reach the state tournament. The road is littered with teams that have lost by huge margins before bouncing back to win championships, the 2009 Little League World Series champion Chula Vista, Calif., coming to mind.
Montoursville lost a game but did not lose the tournament. Tonight presents an opportunity for a team that had thumped six previous opponents and can now show that it is resilient as it is talented.
"It doesn't matter what the score is, a loss is a loss. We just have to regroup and come back tomorrow. There's nothing else you can do," Montoursville coach Lee Ranck said. "Tonight wasn't our night and Potter McKean hammered us. It's been kind of easy for us to this point so (tonight) will be a true test to see how the boys handle a situation like that when things don't go their way."
Montoursville immediately fought back in the bottom of the first as Jaxon Dalena hit a lead-off home run. Cameron Wood singled two batters later and Hunter Shearer (2 for 2) followed with a two-run home run that made it 11-3.
Potter McKean pretty much ended Montoursville's comeback hopes in the third inning, scoring six runs as pinch-hitter Gunner Bean and Howie Stuckey both hit three-run home runs. Bean drove in four runs off the bench and fellow reserve Caden Rees went 1 for 1 with two runs, highlighting the team's depth.
Potter McKean made all its home runs hurt with all six producing at least two runs. Kolby VanWhy (3 for 4, 5 RBI) and Babcock, hit a three-run and two-run home run, respectively in the fourth inning.
"We didn't want to let up," VanWhy said. "We just wanted to keep adding and adding and score runs each inning because we knew these guys can score runs just as well and everybody on their roster can hit."
Montoursville finished with eight hits but Potter McKean made some nice defensive plays, including one by shortstop Stuckey who turned what looked like a sure RBI single up the middle into a third-inning double play. Montoursville defeated Potter McKean, 14-10 Sunday so both teams are familiar with each other and both know they can beat the other.
Montoursville has three solid pitchers available tonight and Potter McKean has one of its top two pitchers likely ready to go. Expect Tuesday's crowd to be even bigger tonight.
"We know how it feels now. It's one of those games where there is no yelling or screaming. We just got beat and now we come back. Because we won the first game we're in a position where we can still move on with a win," Ranck said. "We're looking forward to a good game from our kids and a good game all together from two good teams. Both teams smash the baseball."
Potter McKean(11)16 6-24 17 0
Montoursville300 0-3 8 2
Gavin Babcock and Camden Graves. Hunter Shearer, Jaxon Dalena (1), Joel Verrico (3), Peyton Mussina (4) and Cole Ranck. W-Babcock. L-Shearer.
Top Potter McKean hitters: Kolby VanWhy 3-4, HR, 2B, 5 RBI, 3 R; Howie Stuckey 2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 4 R; Gavin Babcock 2-4, 2 HRs, 5 RBI, 2 R; Preston Cobb 1-2, HR, 3 RBI, 3 R; Justice Rees 2-2, 2B, 2 R; Gunner Bean 1-2, HR, 4 RBI. Top Montoursville hitters: Jaxon Dalena 1-3, HR, RBI; Cameron Wood 1-2, R; Shearer 2-2, HR, 2 RBI, Mason Sechrist 2-2; C.J. Signor 1-1; Peyton Mussina 1-1, 2B.