Lukens making impact in final season at Mansfield

MANSFIELD UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS Mansfield University’s Owen Lukens, a Williamsport graduate, is having a career season in his final year with the Mountaineers.

Owen Lukens could only watch what was supposed to be his senior season go by without him. The experience hurt as much as the torn meniscus he suffered, but the Mansfield University infielder is a college student. Might as well learn as much as he could and turn a negative into a positive.

Lukens did just that as he redshirted his 2017 campaign and it is paying big dividends now.

Lukens, a 2013 Williamsport graduate, is having his best collegiate season and is doing all he can to help Mansfield reach the postseason for the first time during his career. Lukens is hitting a career-best .328 and providing consistent production for a team hoping to make a big push. Lukens was a good player before, but maybe it was the time away that has made him even better.

“I learned to never take anything for granted. Baseball has been such a large part of my life for 22 years, and at any moment it can be taken away from me,” Lukens said. “I learned to treat each game as if it would be my last. Most importantly, I learned how to lead. I could not be there for my teammates last year as a player, but I could be there as a voice. Being able to help my teammates any way possible, really kept me in the game.”

Lukens became a pseudo-coach last year. While he could not play, he could still lead. He could still help. He could still push his teammates. Though he never played an inning, Lukens made a big impact and his returning teammates rewarded him by naming him a team captain during the preseason.

Really, the only thing that has changed in 2018 is that Lukens is playing again. The leadership qualities he exhibited last season remain. That combination makes him one of Mansfield’s most valuable players.

“It is great to have Owen back for his final year. He is one of our top hitters and s great team leader,” long-time Mansfield coach Harry Hillson said. “Owen has been a starter since his sophomore year and has worked exceptionally hard to get where he is since his freshman year.”

“Becoming a captain at Mansfield during my final season meant a great deal to me. I’ve always put great pride into being a leader throughout my athletic career,” Lukens said. “I’ve put my blood and sweat into being a Mansfield University baseball player, and going down in history as a captain of this great program is truly an honor.”

Lukens helped Williamsport capture a district championship in 2011, but a harbinger came when he missed half the 2012 season with an injury. He closed his scholastic career by hitting .436. A year later, though, he was back at the bottom trying to work his way up as a collegiate freshman. Lukens started only five games, but kept grinding and became a regular starter as a sophomore. Lukens became one of Mansfield’s most indispensable players because he could play both outfield and infield.

Lukens really started hitting his stride as a junior, starting 38 games and hitting a career-high .314. But right when he was climbing high again, Lukens was knocked back down. In addition to the meniscus injury, Lukens also suffered cartilage damage. The road back has not been an easy one, but Lukens never let the injury beat him down.

Stronger than before, Lukens is hitting for average and providing quality run production. He has 16 RBIs and has hit safely in 16 of his 19 games. It helps that Hillson also can plug in Lukens so many different places. The best might be coming, too, as Lukens works all the way back from the injury.

“This is the best I have felt as a ball player since my senior year at Williamsport. I feel extremely comfortable at the plate and I believe it is truly starting to show,” Lukens said. “I hope to finish the season and my baseball career strong, and most importantly, on the winning side of things.

Mansfield is on the outside looking in at the playoffs right now, but a player like Lukens gives it a shot at changing that. Whatever happens, Lukens is not only giving it his best shot, but making sure his teammates do as well.

“It has been my dream to still be alive in the postseason. I have not been able to do that in my four years, but I believe this team can catch fire and make that happen,” Lukens said. “College baseball has taught me so many things. I’ve grown as a teammate, a leader, and a player. The ability to take one play at a time, and most importantly be coachable, has been where I have seen my growth as a player.”

Last year was all about learning. As his college career winds down, however, Lukens has become the teacher.

EXTRA BASES: St. John Neumann closed its 2017 campaign strong by winning six of its last eight games and opened 2018 strong, beating Benton, 8-3 Saturday. Jaiden Cioffi threw four strong innings and also went 3 for 4 with two RBIs. Adam Helminiak also had three hits and two RBIs and Jeff Hamilton added two more RBIs as Neumann scored three first-inning runs and led by as many as seven … Jersey Shore opened its HAC-I title defense by rallying from a two-run, fifth-inning deficit and beating Midd-West, 8-5. Calvin Lesser threw 4 1/3 hitless innings and Timmy Saar and Brandon DePasqua both stole three bases. Koby Peacock added an RBI double … North Penn-Mansfield (2-1) has scored 34 runs and collected 32 hits in its first three games. The Tigers thumped Wyalusing, 13-4 as Kipp Hillson and Dylan Wesneski both delivered three hits and two RBIs. Dylan Williamson and Logan Garverick had two hits and two RBIs each … Gage Yohn went 3 for 3 with four runs and Brayden Strouse was 2 for 2 with two runs as Montgomery defeated Sullivan County, 12-2. Trevor Miller threw a complete-game as Montgomery earned its first win. Before running into Montgomery, four Sullivan players recorded multi-hit games as the Griffins opened their season with an 18-11 win against Muncy. Grady Oden, and Coty Steele combined for four hits and three RBIs for Muncy … Warrior Run (2-2) shook off a rough eight-error performance against Southern Columbia, turning around 19 hours later and defeating Millville, 9-6. Tyler Pick is having a breakthrough season and had four hits and four RBIs in those two games … Hunter Wentzel is playing well in his first season starting and had four hits in consecutive games last weekend as Hughesville split contests against Montgomery and Mount Carmel … Lewisburg stole nine bases and Aaron Hoover had three in Saturday’s 7-3 win against Line Mountain.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Baseball Teams

1. Central Mountain (3-0)

It is still early, but Central Mountain served notice Friday that the HAC-I championship might once again run through it, after at least sharing the championship the last two seasons. Aaron Swartz and Zane Probst combined on a one-hit shutout as Central Mountain blanked Shikellamy, 3-0. Swartz became the area’s first two-game winner and has surrendered just seven hits in 13 innings while striking out 15. Probst has been brilliant in relief, throwing 4 2/3 hitless innings. Austyn Carson went 3-for-4 with an RBI and catcher Asher Corl delivered two more hits, extending his hitting streak to 22 games.

2. Montoursville (1-0)

So many tough games remain, but Montoursville could not have asked for a much better start, downing defending District 4 Class AAA champion Loyalsock, 3-0 in Thursday’s season opener. Logan Ott and Owen Kiess combined on a four-hit shutout, the defense made no errors and Montoursville wasted no time giving new coach Jeremy Eck his first win.

“I’m happy with our guys. We have a lot of good athletes and we have to learn the game of baseball. If we do that, we can be dangerous,” Eck said. “Good is not good enough anymore. We tell the kids that all the time. I don’t care what the expectations are throughout the community, we just care about what our expectations are. We expect to win and the coaches are putting in a lot of time and we’re trying to get these guys to buy in and work and understand the expectations”

3. Loyalsock (1-1)

It took just one day for Loyalsock to erase the sting of Thursday’s loss as it thumped Milton, 7-1. Eric Holz and Dylan Armson combined on a two-hitter and first-time starter Alex Schluter delivered two hits for a second straight game. Logan Edmonds and Anthony Pastore threw well against Montoursville, scattering five hits and striking out 11. Edmonds has thrown 14 straight scoreless innings going back to last year’s state tournament.

“It’s going to be another situation where we have a 1 and a 1A. We’ve talked about Pastore embracing that left-hander role. They’re all for it and they’re both ready to step up and pitch in big games,” Loyalsock coach Zac Martin said. “When you strip everything away, right-hander, left-hander, what pitches they have … the main thing is they just compete and they love to win.”

4. Williamsport (1-4)

Seven of Williamsport’s next eight games are Central Penn League contests. All are big ones since, District 2 bases its tournament seeds on league finishes. Williamsport starts its league campaign Wednesday at Hollidaysburg and is hoping to show that playing the competition it did at the Mingo Bay Classic could prove a season-long boost.

5. Wellsboro (1-1)

The Green Hornets received stellar pitching in their first two games, beating Canton, 4-1 and losing to Troy, 3-0 in eight innings. Johnny Rowland led the area with nine wins last year and threw a complete-game five-hitter against Troy. Dalton Prough threw seven one-hit innings against Troy before the Trojans scored three runs against the bullpen in the eighth. Rowland also had three hits in the two games and Caleb Tennis went 2-for-3 with two doubles in the Canton win.

Players of the Week

Jaxon Dalena, Montoursville and Jaret Stroup, Hughesville

Dalena came on strong as a freshman outfielder last season, but is now filling a gaping void at catcher after Nolan Ott graduated. He started strong, too, shining defensively in the 3-0 Loyalsock win. The game was scoreless through six innings and Loyalsock twice had runners on third, but Dalena never let a ball get past him while also going 2-for-3 with a walk. Stroup made a game-changing throw home to cut down a runner in a 5-1 win against Montgomery while also delivering the game’s biggest hit and throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the win. A day later, he added two more hits and an RBI.

Game of the Week

Jersey Shore at Central Mountain

These rivals split both the HAC-I championship and two games last season. The home team won each contest last season and Jersey Shore is one of only two teams to beat Central Mountain in league play since it joined the league. Both teams feature strong pitching so runs could be at a premium.

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

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