Loyalsock still has more work to do

Some players threw their gloves high into the air, but other than that Loyalsock could not have delivered a more subdued celebration after winning Friday’s District 4 Class AA championship.

Winning that title was important, and a season-long goal, especially after losing in last year’s final. But when one already has scaled the biggest mountain there is, winning anything less provides a more ho-hum experience. The championship Loyalsock most covets is still out there.

A year after capturing the state championship, Loyalsock has an opportunity to do so again. The quest for a repeat starts today at Bowman Field as the Lancers face Bald Eagle Area in the state tournament’s opening round.

“It’s the goal all year. After winning one, anything less isn’t a success,” second baseman/pitcher Phil Krizan said. “We’re absolutely ecstatic that we get another shot at it. For us seniors it’s a dream come true to have a chance to go out the right way.”

A state tournament game started looking like a far-fetched idea a few weeks ago after Loyalsock dropped to 8-5. The Lancers lost Duke-bound pitcher Luke Glavin to injury, played without all-state outfielder Robbie Klein for much of the season, and seemed like a house divided after controversy threatened to break the team apart.

Instead, after dropping a 2-1, 10-inning heartbreaker to Hughesville which ultimately cost it the HAC-II championship, Loyalsock came together. Klein returned from injury at the Backyard Brawl and is playing left field again, and the Lancers have won 11 straight, including four in the district tournament. Some might have counted it out, but Loyalsock is back.

“We’re like a family and we wouldn’t give up,” third baseman Joey Balawajder said. “We’re humble guys and these are great guys to play with. There’s just so much fight in this team.”

Andrew Malone and Krizan combined to hold down Bloomsburg in the district final with both pitching out of bases-loaded jams and ending rallies which could have changed the game’s complexion. They are two of the pitchers who have helped fill the void left after Glavin suffered a blood clot in his arm and underwent season-ending surgery.

Glavin and Kyle Datres won all six postseason games last year, and Datres could start against BEA. The junior was the winning pitcher in last year’s state championship win over Beaver and is 2-0 this postseason, throwing 13 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

Whoever pitches, Loyalsock understands it has to play better if hopes to survive and advance. While Loyalsock captured its fifth district title in seven seasons Friday, it also made five errors and struggled early to drive in runners in scoring position. It was a microcosm of the season, really, as Loyalsock overcame a lot of adversity and prevailed.

The Lancers, though, do not want to keep trying to win that way.

“We didn’t play very good baseball and we’re going to have to clean it up. I’m not sure if I ever saw a line like that and still won the game,” Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. “There were a lot of miscues and plays that we should have made but we kept coming back and answering the call. Every time they scored a run we came back and found a way to score. If we didn’t answer the bell there things could have been different.”

The Lancers peaked at the perfect time last year, playing their best baseball in the state tournament. What made Loyalsock especially tough to beat there was the way the offense clicked from top to bottom. There have been glimpses of that happening down the stretch but not everything has come together yet.

Encouraging from Loyalsock’s perspective Friday was the way the bottom of the order delivered. Bailey Young and Evan Moore delivered consecutive fifth-inning RBI doubles which made it 6-3, and Tommy Baggett added a timely RBI single an inning later. The key now is getting more hitters on the same page at the same time.

“I always remind them of a quote Jimmy (Webb) said after the Eastern final last year,” Eck said. “If we ever all click together and we swing one through nine, or six guys or so decide on one day to swing we could be very dangerous.”

All the Lancers wanted entering the season and, especially after the midseason funk, was a chance. They took a wild and winding road to get here but the opportunity is there. Now the Lancers will try and seize it.

“Once we realized that we lost to Hughesville twice we realized that we had to get it going,” Moore said. “We just had so much fire, so much intensity and that’s what we need to keep doing if we want to keep playing.”