Lewisburg on verge of postseason

Lewisburg had seen this script before. Warrior Run scored seven first-inning runs two weeks ago and opened an early commanding lead.

It looked similar to many Lewisburg games from 2001-15 when the program mightily struggled and never sniffed the playoffs. But the last two seasons have been different. Lewisburg fights back now. And Lewisburg wins a lot more now.

Lewisburg erased that seven-run deficit and defeated Warrior Run, 10-7. It was one of many comebacks Lewisburg has pulled off this season. The Green Dragons have won two games in walk-off fashion and have dramatically changed their image. Now they are just a win from reaching the postseason for the first time since 2000.

There has been a huge culture change at Lewisburg, but is more than just about winning. It is all about how the Dragons prepare and work. Do those little things that stats do not measure and a program’s image starts changing.

“We’re doing our best to instill passion and hard work in the kids. It’s not really about instilling a culture of winning. I think that’s a misguided idea,” second-year coach Brian Zysset said. “It’s about working hard and practicing hard and playing hard and staying focused and calm. They are doing that and it’s night and day from what people told me.”

Lewisburg (9-8) showed rapid improvement in Zysset’s first year a season ago, winning seven games which was a three-win jump from 2015. More importantly, the Dragons were competitive in nearly every game and kept plugging away following a 2-9 start.

That determined effort carried over into 2017. Lewisburg has big wins over tradition-laden programs like Loyalsock, Montoursville and 2016 District 4 Class AAA champion Selinsgrove. The Dragons rallied from three down to defeat Loyalsock on a walk-off single, blanked both Montoursville and Selinsgrove, and has fallen just a few hits shy of pulling off several other comeback wins.

Montoursville snapped Lewisburg’s four-game winning streak last Wednesday, winning 5-4. But Lewisburg erased two deficits and twice had the tying run on base in the last two innings.

Two days later Lewisburg defeated a 14-win team for a second time, beating HAC-III champion Central Columbia, 4-2, in eight innings. No team has beaten Lewisburg by more than three runs and the message Zysset is preaching is being heard loud and clear.

“Sometimes it’s a little harder based on what kind of kids you’re dealt, but we have great kids,” Zysset said. “They’re mature. They’re classy. They work hard and they want to win.”

They can play, too. Aaron Hoover and Dakotah Snyder both have thrown shutouts. Hoover needed only 56 pitches to beat Selinsgrove, 3-0, last Monday. Both anchor a strong staff which has a 2.47 ERA. Jack Marrara is hitting .354, Sam Rosevear has eight hits in his last three games, and Kevin Reyes has stolen 13 bases. Lewisburg has improved defensively as well, making no errors against Montoursville and Central. It has the look of a team which could be a tough out if it reaches the playoffs.

The Dragons have four games remaining against Central Columbia, Southern Columbia, East Juniata and Line Mountain. Win at least two of them and they are playoff-bound. It would be quite an achievement for a program that has not tasted playoff success since a team featuring three Division I players won a second consecutive District 4 championship in 2000.

This team might not be as talented as those teams, including a 1999 squad that was an out from reaching the state championship. But it is making its own mark on program history. This is the team bringing Lewisburg baseball back. The work is not done and it seemingly is never easy, but it sure is worthwhile.

“We’re not stranger to adversity. You’ve seen that the last two years. We are well-educated and experienced in that,” Zysset said. “The success is all on the kids. Without them we couldn’t do our job as coaches. They’re a great group.”

SHORT MEMORY

Montoursville did no sulk after losing 7-0 at home to Central Mountain last Tuesday. The Warriors simply forgot about the performance soon after it ended and focused on what was ahead. That amnesia paid off, too, as Montoursville bounced back and won hard-fought games against Lewisburg and Southern Columbia, respectively. The Warriors (9-5) clinched a playoff spot in the process and continued the district’s longest running postseason streak.

“We came out flat (against Central Mountain) and didn’t play well and we had to move on,” Montoursville coach Travis Wurster said after the Lewisburg win. “We can’t dwell on games we don’t play well and we came out (against Lewisburg) and we needed that. We needed a close win. We needed to stay excited. Guys in the dugout were excited which is a big change for us. We don’t necessarily have to push them along, but it’s nice when they show up like that.”

Montoursville has a good core back from last year’s District 4 Class AAA finalist and also has good freshmen starters like Logan Ott and Jaxon Dalena making nice impacts. Both had RBIs in the Lewisburg win and Dalena homered and doubled against Lewisburg and Southern. Mitchell Rothrock threw a gutty complete game against Lewisburg and has won four straight. Nolan Ott threw a masterful two-hit shutout against Southern and improved to 3-0.

The Warriors did not win the HAC-II title but a bigger championship is there for the taking. Build on what it started last week and Montoursville could have as much a chance as any team of winning that district crown.

“We’re still not playing our best baseball yet,” Rothrock said. “But coming down the stretch we’re starting to get better. We’re starting to hit the ball better and we’re going to come together here.”

AROUND THE AREA

Jersey Shore has built quite a baseball tradition and added another championship banner last Tuesday, defeating Midd-West and capturing at least a share of the HAC-I championship. The Bulldogs (11-6) won their seventh league title since 2007 and have won a league and/or district championship every year since 2006 except one. Jersey Shore won eight straight games overall before losing to Mount Carmel, 2-1, Thursday and its pitching staff has allowed just seven runs in its last six games … Montgomery (11-2) is having an excellent season despite having no seniors and few juniors. The Red Raiders have won seven straight games and 11 of their last 12 after winning three more times last week. Gage Yohn threw six innings of scoreless relief against Muncy and Trevor Miller went 5 for 5 with five runs scored and four RBIs in a 24-1 ambush of Benton … South Williamsport pitcher Tyler Askey continued surging in his senior season, throwing 6 2/3 innings of two-hit baseball in a 3-1 win at Warrior Run. Askey struck out nine and won his third straight. During that time, he has allowed only two earned runs in 12 1/3 innings as well as seven hits, striking out 24 … Wellsboro (9-8) boosted its playoff chances, upsetting North Penn-Mansfield and downing Troy in a matchup of playoff-bubble teams. The Hornets avenged defeats in both games and received excellent pitching from Billy Lechler and Johnny Rowland. Those two combined on a five-hitter against a potent Mansfield offense and Rowland won his fifth game, throwing a four-hitter in the 6-2 win against Troy … Brady Romano went 4 for 4 with three runs and Daimeer Clark continued his strong season, going 3 for 4 with three runs scored as St. John Neumann blanked Bucktail, 17-0.

Dr. Masse’s Top Five

1. Williamsport (11-3)

St. Mary’s might have dealt Williamsport’s hopes of earning District 2-4 Class AAAAAA’s top seed a death blow, defeating it 5-2 on Senior Day at Logue Field. The Millionaires have better overall records than West Scranton and Delaware Valley, but both those teams have shots at winning league championships. If they do that could slide them into higher positions and potentially put Williamsport on the road for the semifinals. Williamsport delivered 26 hits in its two previous games, but went cold against St. Mary’s being held scoreless over the final six innings. Jesse Cornell and Ryan Jolin, though, were bright spots and both are having strong seasons. Cornell is among the area’s leaders in batting average and both he and Jolin had two hits.

2. Loyalsock (14-3)

The Lancers also might have lost a shot at earning a top seed when Mifflinburg beat it, 7-2 last Monday. Still, in District 4 it is more about matchups than it is seeding placement. Loyalsock bounced back from the Mifflinburg game in quality fashion, blanking South Williamsport, 5-0. Larry Van Stavoren continued his strong senior season, throwing a two-hit shutout. Van Stavoren struck out six and has thrown two strong games in his first two starts this season while also being one of the team’s top hitters. Van Stavoren’s 2 for 4 performance against Mifflinburg was his fifth straight multi-hit performance.

3. North Penn-Mansfield (13-4)

The Tigers have been hard to figure at times during the season’s second half but showed how dangerous they can be Wednesday when they handed Athens its first league loss, winning 6-5. Brendan Hill went 3 for 4 with an RBI and Kipp Hillson threw three scoreless innings of relief to earn the win. Last year’s District 4 Class AA champions are hitting .365 as a team and all nine starters are hitting above .300. Sophomore catcher Dylan Williamson has made huge offensive strides in his second season starting and is hitting .400 with a team-high 22 RBIs.

4. Central Mountain (11-6)

The Wildcats are peaking at the right time and have won six of their last seven games. Central Mountain’s pitching staff is becoming deep and balanced with five pitchers having delivered quality starts the last two weeks. A.J. Smith threw a 2-hit shutout in a 7-0 win at Montoursville last Tuesday and Ethan Watkins and Aaron Swartz combined on a six-hit, 12-inning performance in a 2-1 win over Shikellamy, throwing 11 straight scoreless innings to end the game. Swartz, only a freshman, has been especially impressive since making his debut two weeks ago and Watkins overpowered the Braves, striking out nine in 8 1/3 innings. Central Mountain plays Shikellamy again Tuesday and a win in that game would give the Wildcats a share of the HAC-I championship, along with Jersey Shore.

5. Hughesville (12-5)

The Spartans are playing excellent baseball at the perfect time and have won 11 of their last 13 games. Hughesville clinched its 10th straight playoff berth, going 3-0 last week and scoring 27 runs in those games. Shortstop Ryan McClain and Jared Snyder have helped Hughesville overcome a slow start and put together solid weeks with McClain going 3 for 3 with four runs and two RBIs against Southern Columbia. Snyder went 3 for 3 with three RBIs as Hughesville overcame a two-run, sixth-inning deficit and beat 2016 District 4 Class AAA champion Selinsgrove, 6-4. Conrad Sheatler threw six strong innings in that win and improved to 5-0 while Zack Murray earned his third save.

Players of the Week

Matt Myers, Hughesville and Noah Showers, Warrior Run

Myers is one of several Spartans having big breakout seasons and has been on a tear, hitting home runs in three of his last four games. Myers helped power Hughesville last week, going 5 for 9 with two home runs and seven RBIs. The junior has 10 RBIs in his last four games, all Hughesville wins. Showers is having an excellent senior season and became the area’s first player to hit for the cycle when he had a career day in Friday’s 20-10 win over Sullivan County. Showers went 4 for 4 with six RBIs and finished his big week with nine RBIs.

Game of the Week

Hughesville at Jersey Shore

Both teams took big graduation hits but both have made big strides throughout the season and are playoff-bound. Friday’s game gives both a good test before districts begin next week and should be a fun game, especially with both pitching staffs having been so effective down the stretch. A win here could be a nice springboard into the postseason.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

COMMENTS