Gritty seniors lead Lancers to title game

Doctors told Robbie Klein he would not play baseball this spring. Bailey Young heard a similar diagnosis.

Both are starters for a Class AA state finalist. Klein and Young are part of a senior class that is as tough and tenacious as a junk-yard dog. Many focus on the team’s underclassmen but this gritty senior group has been just as instrumental to Loyalsock again reaching the state’s biggest game.

A year after capturing the state championship, the Lancers are back again. They play District 6 champion Central on Friday at Penn State and the seniors have the opportunity to leave Loyalsock on the ultimate high.

“These guys have a great will to win and it’s all about family to these guys. You see the community support here with people coming on the field and hugging people and that’s what it is all about,” Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said following Monday’s 4-3 semifinal win over Neumann-Goretti. “Winning games is great, but ultimately it’s a family atmosphere. The kids love each other. They’re going to be best friends the rest of their lives and they’re picking our family up like you wouldn’t believe.”

The seniors have helped keep the family together, despite being tattered and hurting throughout the season.

Klein suffered a stress fracture in his lower back either during football last fall or while lifting weights in the offseason. It looked like he would miss his entire season after earning all-state honors as a junior. Instead, Klein defied the odds, returned for the Backyard Brawl championship and has played every inning since, changing the lineup’s dynamic.

Young contracted mono late in the regular season and he, too, was expected to miss the rest of the season. Instead, he returned by Loyalsock’s first playoff game. The senior hit a key RBI double in a 7-4 district championship win over Bloomsburg but experienced a setback and was in the emergency room when Loyalsock (22-5) played its state tournament opener against Bald Eagle Area.

Again, his health could not keep Young down. He returned three days later against Notre Dame-Green Pond and hit another clutch double against Neumann-Goretti that helped produce a sixth-inning run that became the game-winner. He might not feel 100 percent, but Young, who delivered a walk-off single in last year’s state final, is playing like it.

“There’s always a different player that comes through in that spot that we need them most and Bailey was that guy (Monday),” catcher Evan Moore said. “He never cracks under pressure. He gets his most confident when he’s put in those situations. That’s what he practices for, that’s what we all play for.”

That is why Nick DiFrancesco came back strong after missing most of last season with a serious back injury. DiFrancesco has battled injuries again this season but never looks like it. The senior center fielder is one of the district’s best and also has served as a second leadoff hitter from the lineup’s No. 9 spot.

Senior second baseman Phil Krizan was battling dehydration halfway through Monday’s game but never thought about exiting. He turned double plays in the fifth and sixth innings and also scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, displaying intelligent and aggressive baserunning.

Joey Balawajder has not had to overcome injuries but he did have to find his role after playing at South Williamsport the last three years. Balawajder also has played different positions, doing whatever Loyalsock asks. Balawajder had to fight his way into the lineup while jelling with former rivals but has excelled, becoming one of the team’s most reliable hitters.

Whatever the obstacle, Loyalsock’s senior starters have cleared them. They have let nothing keep them down and that fight has permeated throughout the whole roster. Loyalsock played a series of tough games in 2008 en route to winning the state championship and so did last year’s team. Those teams, though, looked like they had state title potential throughout the season.

Many, including this reporter, thought Loyalsock was toast after starting 8-5. They were too banged up, missing too many key players to even think about making a state title run. The Lancers, though, never stopped believing and the seniors set the example.

“We have to keep building a new legacy for our seniors and send them out the right way,” junior pitcher Kyle Datres said. “Ethan (Moore) led us to a state championship last year and he went out the right way. They want that same feeling.”

Whatever Friday’s outcome, this senior group will do down as one of the program’s all-time toughest groups.

Believe that.

-Masse may be reached at Follow him for more high school baseball information on Twitter at @docmasse