Canton eyes 1st state baseball title

Before this season, Canton never captured a District 4 Class A championship or reached a state tournament. It seemed odd then that Canton did not wildly celebrate Tuesday when it defeated Old Forge and captured the Eastern Region championship.

Instead, there barely was a celebration. A few fist pumps and handshakes was the extent of it. There was no Eastern Region championship trophy presentation but one had the feeling if there was, Canton would have avoided it like the plague.

The Warriors want the big trophy. They want to go all the way and take the gold. Canton wants the state championship and has that opportunity this morning when it plays Johnsonburg for the state title at Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

“We want it all. We’re not getting this far to lose,” pitcher/third baseman Garrett Wesneski said. “We’re going to play good ball as a team and we want to keep going.”

Canton already has come further than any other baseball team in program history. Since beating defending East champion Montgomery in the district final, the Warriors (23-2) have been making history with every win. They have shattered the program record for wins in a season and have outscored three state playoff opponents, 13-3, not allowing more than a run in any game.

Still, the Warriors are far from satisfied. They have a chance to do something many only dream about. No District 4 Class A team has won a state title since Southern Columbia in 2000 and Canton has a chance to become one of the district’s all-time great teams.

“I think we’re very tough to beat,” said first baseman Connor Route, who has two three-hit state tournament games. “I think we’re solid in every aspect of the game.”

The Warriors were last year, too, but lost to Montgomery in the district final. It was the third time Canton lost in the district championship in four seasons. The Warriors had state-caliber teams each time, but could not break through.

It looked like history was repeating itself when Montgomery opened a four-run second-inning lead in the district final. Instead, Canton fought back, took the lead in the sixth inning and won, 8-5. The Warriors took off from there. Wesneski (10-0) and Pepper (8-2) have dominated three opponents in the postseason, allowing only three runs in 20 innings. The defense has been outstanding and the hitting timely.

“I wasn’t thinking about it at the beginning of the season, but once we got into the playoffs I thought we could do it,” senior shortstop Wes Moore said. “Our team was clicking and we started hitting right before districts. Our defense was doing well and the pitching was better. Chase and Garrett, they both throw hard and they all bring it for us.”

Canton is as balanced as any District 4 Class A champion in recent memory. Eight starters are hitting higher than .300 and all nine have delivered big hits and made big plays throughout the postseason. The playoffs simply have been an extension of the regular season in which Canton started 13-0 and won the NTL-West championship in its inaugural season.

The Warriors lost only two one-run games to solid Class AA teams and have proven they excel in close games, too, after winning several blowouts during the regular season. They held off Old Forge’s seventh-inning rally Tuesday, edged Calvary Christian 3-1 and left the tying runs on base in the district final.

The team is as hard-nosed and hard-working as it is talented and the results have been historic.

“We haven’t been behind a lot but these guys don’t quit,” long-time coach Bob Rockwell said. “They’re gamers. They’re a special group.”

But this group wants more. It has attracted a huge following and it would not be surprising if a big portion of Medlar Field is a sea of red today.

Canton has no intention of disappointing those fans. The journey has been memorable and now it’s time to embrace the moment.

“It’s awesome. That rush of going there is going to be great, but we’re going to keep the same mentality and relax and make the most of it,” Wesneski said. “It’s the state final. You might never get this chance ever again. You just have to have fun and play all-out.”

Canton always does.