Lancers meet preseason expectations

Every baseball team is different and nearly every one approaches the season different. Many use the one game at a time cliche and never look ahead to the state championship when they have not even played a game yet.

Loyalsock is not that team.

Before the season, coach Jeremy Eck came up with a team slogan and soon the Lancers had warm-up shirts featuring it. The slogan was “QC68.8,” representing quiet confidence and the distance from home plate at Loyalsock to home at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park where Friday’s state final will be played. Nearly three months after those shirts were printed, that is exactly where the Lancers are headed.

Loyalsock (21-3) plays Beaver Friday at Penn State for the Class AA championship. The road was littered with obstacles but Loyalsock navigated through them and is now where it expected to be.

“When you set out you always say you want to win a state title. If you don’t set out to win a state title as your goal at the start of the season you shouldn’t be coaching, shouldn’t be playing,” Eck said. “Going into the season we had a legit shot. We had a team that was built to make a run. When things go wrong you say maybe not now, but we always knew we could get there.”

Now they are. Loyalsock had reason to be optimistic entering 2013 with nearly every starter back from last year’s District 4 champion and 21-win team. Everything changed, though, as the season progressed and injuries and other issues took a toll. The Lancers were a walking hospital at times but still captured both the HAC-II championship and the district’s top seed.

Loyalsock survived two one-run thrillers against Towanda and Montoursville, but were knocked off course again when Hughesville edged it 7-5 in a dramatic, nine-inning district final. It could have been a devastating blow to an ailing team but it might have been exactly what it needed.

“We didn’t let that affect us in a negative way. We used that as a positive. We wiped that from our mind and them celebrating motivated us,” said right fielder, Jimmy Webb who has scored five runs the last two games. “We wanted to show everyone that we’re not done yet and that we still had states.”

Loyalsock has played like the team it expected to be in the preseason since then. It has downed three straight district champions who were a combined 61-8 by a 23-6 margin. Tuesday’s 8-1 Eastern Region championship win over Salisbury was the most impressive, coming against a team that had dominated most of its opponents and that had 10 seniors from a team that reached the 2011 state final.

The Lancers played their best game of the year Tuesday as every offensive starter delivered a hit, Luke Glavin threw a complete-game five-hitter and the defense played an error-less game.

“The Hughesville heartbreak, coming back in the seventh and not getting it done when we had a chance woke these guys up,” Eck said. “They realized there are no more second chances.”

“We just knew how close we were. This was the one and we wanted to get it done,” said right fielder Ben Sosa, who hit an RBI double against Salisbury. “We knew Penn State was our goal and we wanted to play there all year, so we had to get it done.”

Even before these players reached high school there was talk of making a state championship run. The core of this team nearly won states in Little League and the Junior Division all-stars did capture the state title. High school is a different level, but players were accustomed to excelling in big games and winning championships.

They entered a program that was identical in that respect. The Lancers have played in four of the last six state Final 4s and Friday will try and win their second state crown since 2008.

“I thought we would just keep progressing as we went to the different stages and keep getting better every year,” second baseman Phil Krizan said. “We could see it happening.”

And now it has. Loyalsock might have traveled a different road it expected but it ultimately led to Penn State. It took a winding road, but it found its way. It made sure that slogan was more than just a set of words.

“There’s a lot we can look back on and say could have, should have, would have,” Eck said. “But all that helped us get to here. It helped us get to this moment.”