Canton has been building for this chance

High schools throughout Pennsylvania are learning what the Northern Tier has known for years.

The Canton kids can play.

The Canton baseball team makes its Class A state semifinal debut today at Bloomsburg University against Old Forge. Those who have followed the players since they first started competing realize this is just another step on a journey they started long ago. Canton (22-2) is having the best season in school history, winning a district championship and state tournament games for the first time. But this is not a case of a team heating up at the right time or catching lightning in a bottle for a year.

The Warriors have played with each other since many started swinging a bat and they have experienced nothing but winning. Several players also were the first to win district championships for Canton at the youth 9-10, 11-12 and Junior Division levels.

“They work hard all summer long. They have played travel ball all the way up since they were little kids and as they grow up they keep playing travel ball and then they get into the legion program and then it’s high school so it’s not just high school where they are successful,” long-time Canton coach Bob Rockwell said. “These kids put their time in to get where they’re at.”

Where they are now is a step away from playing in the state’s biggest game. The winner of today’s game between the District 4 and District 2 champions goes to Penn State on Friday and plays for a state championship. All those games over the years, all those practices and all the memories created has led to this moment.

The Warriors are excited for the opportunity. They are even more excited they are doing so together. The years have changed but the names have not.

“It’s awesome. We play so good together,” pitcher/infielder Garrett Wesneski said. “We’ve been playing together since we were like 5 all the way up through. We all get along and this is a great team together.”

Canton has had little trouble translating its youth and travel ball success to high school. It opened the season with 13 consecutive wins and is 4-0 in the postseason, winning games in a variety of ways. The Warriors captured the NTL-West championship in their debut season, lost two games by one run each to solid Class AA teams which they also beat, and have displayed terrific balance.

The Warriors edged Muncy in the district semifinals in eight innings, overcame a four-run deficit against defending district champion Montgomery in the final and have won their first two state games by an 11-2 margin. As the games have grown tougher, a close team has pulled together even tighter while captivating its community.

Last Monday, fans filled nearly all the seats along the first-base line at Bowman Field as Canton routed Lancaster County Christian, 3-1, in its state tournament debut. An early start and a near three-hour drive could not deter them Thursday as they again flocked to watch the Warriors play. They not only like that Canton is winning, they like how they play.

“Nobody is cocky on this team at all. Everyone wants everyone to do well,” first baseman Connor Route said. “We’re just like brothers on this team playing great baseball.”

Canton quietly has built a solid high school tradition. It starts at the lower levels, but a lot of teams enter high school with impressive youth accolades. Canton has built off that success at the next level with good coaching, hard work and an expectation of success. The Warriors have the talent but also have been willing to pay the price to be elite.

Going back to 2009, Canton has played in four of the last five district championships. It has won at least 15 games in each of the last four seasons and always helds its own when playing in the NTL-East, a strong league that featured mostly larger school teams.

“We’ve been coached real well since we were little kids. It’s not just high school,” Route said. “We play a lot of travel ball and it’s great to be doing this.”

Past Canton teams laid the foundation and this one is laying one brick after another upon it. The Warriors already have established themselves as the best team in program history.

Now they would like to make sure their accomplishments can never be topped.

“We’re one of four teams left,” Rockwell said. “They’re ready for anything and they want it bad.”