Backyard Brawl still a great event
Montoursville coach Travis Wurster was not consulted concerning moving the Backyard Brawl from Bowman Field to Logue Field last week. Neither was Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck or South Williamsport coach Shawn Finn.
And Wurster does not care.
Like everyone affiliated with the Brawl, he hoped it could be played at Bowman Field. But what Wurster cares most about is that the Brawl is going on, period.
“I’d rather play in Lowe’s parking lot than not play at all,” Wurster said. “We preach to our kids don’t worry about the things you can’t control. With this, it was unfortunate and it stinks but we can’t control it, so we’ll play it anywhere. We’re just excited we get to play against three of the better teams around here. We’re excited because all the teams are good and anything can happen.”
That is the case every year. All four programs are among District 4’s most tradition-laden. All have won multiple league and/or district championships over the past decade and all have played in a state tournament within the last three years. And all four have won at least one Backyard Brawl in the last five played, Loyalsock taking last year’s and Williamsport two of the last four.
“All four teams are playing well,” Montoursville third baseman Ryan Mondell said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The fun starts at 10 a.m. Saturday when Montoursville plays South Williamsport. Loyalsock and Williamsport play next with the consolation game scheduled for 4 and the championship for 6:30.
This could be the best Brawl in recent memory and outstanding cases can be made for all four teams winning it. The four enter a combined 42-8 and all are serious district title contenders.
South opened the season 11-0 and beat defending Brawl champion Loyalsock, 9-5, last month. Loyalsock has not lost since, winning 10 straight and exacting revenge Friday, downing the Mounties, 12-4. Montoursville had won eight straight before dropping a 9-8 heartbreaker to Jersey Shore on Friday. Williamsport (10-4) is playing some of its best baseball, winning four straight. The Millionaires have allowed two runs or fewer in five of their last six games and have one of the deepest pitching staffs around.
All four games were determined by three runs or fewer last year and it would be fairly shocking if any blowouts occur this year. The teams’ records and traditions make the Brawl outstanding by itself, but there is something else that annually makes this one of the scholastic sports year’s crown jewels.
The proximity of all four schools helps, but what really makes it special is how well players from all four teams know each other. They have played against each other since Little League and also have played together at times in various all-star tournaments. Familiarity can breed contempt and while many are friends off the field, that means they want to beat each other that much more on the field.
“The Brawl is always fun with all these rival teams,” Loyalsock pitcher/shortstop Kyle Datres said. “You always know someone from every team, so it’s always fun to play against your friends.”
The venue might not be what most wanted, but the games should be great again and the atmosphere still electric. Once upon a time many of these current players sat in the stands, watching older siblings and/or friends playing in the Brawl, hoping that one day they could switch places and participate in such a marquee event. That chance comes Saturday.
“This is good for the surrounding communities and the young kids, especially,” Wurster said. “I’m hoping the same amount of fans show up. I love seeing the Little Leaguers there thinking, ‘I can’t wait to do this.'”
This is a moment the players have been waiting to experience for so long. That question now is who will own it?
South’s Justin Knee has never shied away from contact or danger. The senior catcher likes the action behind the plate and was a three-year starting center and linebacker on the football team while also reaching states in wrestling last winter.
On top of all that, Knee is a stellar student. He is a modern-day version of a renaissance man and is ready to use all those qualities in the Air Force. Knee has been accepted to the Air Force and heads to Texas in either August or September to start basic training.
Knee is planning on working as a tactical air control party specialist, a demanding job. The official Air Force Web site says it is one of few true front-line Air Force combat jobs. TACP specialists are known for their ability to bring overwhelming firepower to the battlefield via artillery and air strikes. It is a challenging endeavor but that is what Knee likes about it.
“Last year I decided I wanted to go into the military and help people and I decided the Air Force was the best way to do that,” Knee said. “I just didn’t want to do a simple thing in life. I wanted to be someone to really do something special. I want to try to bump rank as fast as possible.”
Do not bet against that happening. Knee has worked his way up the ranks on three different scholastic teams and become a better player and wrestler each year. He carries a heavy workload but still trains at the YMCA daily getting ready to make his mark in the Air Force.
Before heading to basic training, Knee is hoping to help South capture league and district championships. He is having an excellent season and has developed into one of the best defenders around. Entering Friday’s game at Loyalsock, he had thrown out eight of 12 runners trying to steal on him, including three in last Monday’s 15-6 win at Hughesville.
Knee also has helped out offensively. Although he was a center on South’s HAC-III championship football team, Knee can move. He can provide pop and also run the bases well.
“Justin is doing one heck of a job behind the plate this year,” South coach Shawn Finn said. “He works and works. He was a spot starter last year and as a catcher was behind Kyle Eck the last few years, but he worked double time out there. I can’t say enough about his work ethic this. He brings a lot to the table for all our guys.”
And soon he will be providing a lot to the country too.
Hughesville is heating up. The Spartans (8-6) won three straight games last week and moved above .500 for the first time. The offense came to life later in the week and aces Sadiq Burkholder and Justin Lambert won all three games. Hughesville could be a dangerous lower-seeded team if it qualifies for districts … Neumann pitcher Ryan Reid is having a strong sophomore season and continued it Friday, throwing a complete game five-hitter and striking out 12 in a 4-2 win over Benton … Sophomore Marcus Bartlett has been one of the area’s breakthrough pitchers. He is tied for the area lead in wins (six) and came up huge last Friday, throwing a complete game five-hitter in a 5-3 win over Southern Columbia. Montgomery (9-7) avenged a prior defeat and snapped a two-game losing streak while moving within a win of reaching districts … Muncy’s Dawson Fox has a seven-game hitting streak and is 16 for 23 during that time.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him for more baseball information on Twitter at @docmasse.