Backyard Brawl teams boast impressive resumes

Just the name makes it sound great.

What really makes the Backyard Brawl so much fun are the teams involved. Having four teams all within a five-mile radius of each other makes for an interesting setup. So many of the players on those teams have spent most of their lives playing with and against their opponents, adding more excitement.

But the cherry on top and what makes The Backyard Brawl one of the year’s best scholastic events is the tradition all four teams possess. Four rivals teams going at it is one thing. It goes to another level when all four bring strong teams every season.

Things are no different in 2018, either.

Williamsport, Loyalsock, Montoursville and South Williamsport all again have emerged as district title contenders in their respective classifications. All four are playing well and, combined, they have won 21 consecutive games. The last time one of these teams missed the postseason came 13 years ago. Combined these four teams have missed the playoffs just twice in the 2000s. Montoursville holds one of the state’s most impressive postseason streaks, not missing the playoffs since 1984. Even that year when Ronald Reagan was completing his first presidential term, the Warriors went 11-8 but were denied a playoff bid because the school had a 70 percent playoff winning percentage rule.

Combined the four teams’ playoff streaks together and it adds up to 87 years. Let that sink in.

The current players were not even born the last time Montoursville and South Williamsport missed the playoffs. Loyalsock and Montoursville have each won two state championships and Williamsport has played in two. All four teams reached the district semifinals last year, South advanced to the Class AA championship and Williamsport and Loyalsock captured district crowns.

That is the backdrop leading up to Saturday’s games. Those who have not watched the Brawl have missed out and should turn out Saturday. The first two games will be played at Logue Field with Williamsport facing Loyalsock at 10 a.m and Montoursville battling South Williamsport at 12:30. The action then shifts to Bowman Field with the consolation game scheduled for 4 and the championship at 6:30.

This year’s tournament looks especially intriguing, especially with teams having to juggle their pitching staffs with a busy week of games leading into Saturday. Montoursville (10-2) needs a win next Monday at Mifflinburg to win the outright HAC-II championship so coaching staffs will be working overtime trying to line things up just right.

Rain wiped out last year’s Brawl, but the first game Saturday is a rematch of the 2016 championship which Williamsport won, 2-1. It also features the area’s two hottest teams. Williamsport (9-4) has won eight straight and Loyalsock (9-2) has reeled off seven consecutive wins. Both have deep pitching staffs but both also can mash the ball, combining to hit 11 home runs last week.

Montoursville is one of the area’s younger teams, but has made big strides in coach Jeremy Eck’s first season, winning five straight games and extending its postseason streak to 34 years. South (8-5) overcame a slow start and has won seven of its last nine games. The offense is producing throughout the lineup and Tripp Breen (5-2) has been one of the district’s most dominant pitchers over the last month, outdueling Vanderbilt-bound Thomas Schultz of Mount Carmel in a 5-1 win last week.

Anybody could win this tournament Saturday. Yes, all four teams have big goals that go far beyond winning the Brawl championship. Still, for those 12 hours Saturday all four teams will be playing like it is Game 7 of the World Series.

That is what makes this event so great.

COMING AROUND: Muncy coach Chris Persing guided his teams to 15 straight playoff appearances, a state final and four district championships during his first tenure there. Round II did not start as well as a young Muncy team fell to 2-6 three weeks ago.

Suddenly, though, it is starting to feel like old times again. The Indians have come together and won six straight while moving within two victories of clinching a District 4 Class AA playoff berth. Muncy (8-6) highlighted its ascension last week, going 3-0 and beating St. John Neumann and CMVT teams that defeated it earlier this season.

“Everyone is taking coach’s advice,” catcher Tanner Gold said after going 3 for 4 with an RBI in Friday’s 7-2 win at Neumann. “He’s been here so long and he has so much wisdom and him passing it along to us is great.”

The Indians were hurting themselves maybe even more than the opponents were those first eight games. An error or mistake would lead to a big inning and the game’s complexion was drastically altered.

There was no magic wand waved. It simply has been Muncy learning from its mistakes and not letting them doom it. A good example came in the third inning against Neumann. The Indians made consecutive errors, but preserved a 3-1 lead. They played error-less defense from there, turned two double plays and added several quality plays.

Muncy has grown up fast and is playing with a confidence it lacked just a few weeks ago. The good times have returned.

“They’re starting to trust us a little bit,” Persing said. “We always just had that inning where we had a walk or error and they would get five runs. I truly believe we were close and once they got that first and second (wins) it was them thinking let’s keep playing this style of baseball and good things will happen and they have been happening.”

EXTRA BASES: South has come a long way since the season’s start and recorded impressive wins against Mount Carmel and Hughesville. Breen’s 4-hitter against Schultz and Mount Carmel stood out as he struck out 11, as did a comeback from a 3-run deficit against Hughesville. Ben Johnson, Gideon Green and Hunter Corbin all had two hits in that 9-5 win as Logan Burkett threw 1 1/3 hitless innings to clinch it … St. John Neumann (5-5) is seeking just the third playoff berth in program history and six games this week will go a long way in determining its fate. The Knights boosted their chances with a 12-2 win at Sullivan County. Pitcher Brandon Loner won his fourth straight and also went 4 for 4 with two home runs and four RBIs. Freshman Caleb Reddy also homered … Hughesville snapped a five-game losing streak when it pounded out 19 hits in a 13-3 win over Warrior Run. Six players had at least two hits each with Mike Hill going 3 for 4 and Jaret Stroup homering … Lewisburg (7-8) bounced back in strong fashion following the Montoursville game and boosted its playoff hopes with wins against Midd-West and Warrior Run in which it scored 22 runs. Dakotah Snyder had seven hits in three games last week and Andrew Ramirez delivered two in each one … Montgomery (9-5) scored 39 runs in wins against CMVT and Bucktail. The Raiders avenged a previous defeat against CMVT, erasing a 4-0 deficit as Hunter Budman hit a grand slam, double and drove in six runs. Eithan Marino clinched the 14-4 win with a walk-off home run.

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

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Baseball Teams

1. Williamsport (9-4)

The Millionaires are league champions for the first time since 2011, capturing the Central Penn League title last week with 10-0 and 14-3 wins against DuBois and Punxsutawney. Williamsport can win the outright title if it beats Altoona in its final league game and that likely also would earn it District 2-4 Class AAAAAA’s top seed. The Millionaires have won eight straight games, mercy-ruling six opponents. They have topped 10 runs in seven of those games and hit seven home runs in three wins last week. Center fielder Quentin Brown is hitting over .600 and homered twice while Joe Fagnano’s first-inning home run set the tone in the Punxsutawney win.

2. Loyalsock (9-2)

Connor Watkins is hitting better than he ever has, delivering at least three hits in three of his last four games. Watkins was locked in against Mifflinburg and Sayre, going 6 for 7 with two home runs and seven RBIs while helping the Lancers win, 9-1 and 9-5. Logan Edmonds, one of the district’s best pitchers, has been Watkins’ Bash Brother and also homered in those wins. Edmonds went 4 for 6 with seven RBIs and leads the Lancers with three home runs. Those two and Hunter Webb have hit six home runs over the last two weeks. Eric Holz allowed one run or fewer in a fourth straight start and improved to 4-0 while Anthony Pastore threw a 2-hit complete-game in a 3-2 win over Lewisburg.

3. Jersey Shore (11-2)

Few District 4 programs have performed better than Jersey Shore has since 2006. The Bulldogs added another championship to their collection when they defeated Shamokin 3-2 last Wednesday and clinched no worse than a share of a second straight HAC-I championship. That makes it 12 of the last 13 years in which Jersey Shore has captured a league and/or district title. Loyalsock is the only other District 4 program that can make that claim. Jersey Shore has won 16 of its last 17 HAC-I games going back to last season and has won 11 of its last 12 games this year. Calvin Lesser improved to 5-0 in Friday’s 13-3 win against Montgomery and Aaron Best has allowed just two runs in his last 15 1/3 innings. The offense has improved throughout the season and both Darren Stetts and Brandon DePasqua had three hits and three RBIs against Montgomery.

4. Montoursville (10-2)

After winning a share of its first HAC-II championship with wins against Danville and Mifflinburg, Montoursville put an exclamation on its strong week with a 6-0 win over fellow district title contender Central Columbia. Sophomore Logan Ott threw his third straight shutout and dealt two last week, giving him three straight. Ott has struck out 23 in those games and has surrendered just one earned run in his last 34 1/3 innings pitched. The offense came alive against Lewisburg and Central, producing 16 runs and 18 hits. Catcher Jaxon Dalena is flourishing after moving to the clean-up spot, going 6 for 7 with two doubles and three RBIs. Brandon Dyer has been a solid run producer from the No. 9 spot and hit two RBI singles against Lewisburg to help Montoursville break open the game. There is a long way to go, but Montoursville also moved to the top of the Class AAA standings.

5. Wellsboro (11-2)

The defending District 4 Class AA champions appear well built for the postseason, featuring three pitchers capable of delivering shutdown performances. Johnny Rowland (5-0) threw a 2-hit shutout in a 14-0 win against Troy, Dalton Prough threw six strong innings in a 6-3 win over North Penn-Mansfield and sophomore Carson Davis struck out 13 in five innings against Cowanesque Valley. Wellsboro avenged its only league loss against Troy and is perched atop the NTL-I standings with a chance to win a league title for the first time since 2011. Wellsboro has won 10 of 11 games as well.

Player of the Week

Cody Shimp, Williamsport

No word yet on whether the Williamsport outfielder carved a bat from a tree struck by lightning, but he sure had a week that would make Roy Hobbs envious. Shimp went 8 for 10 and slammed five home runs, putting together one of the best weeks in recent memory. Shimp will pitch at St. Bonaventure next spring, but the Bonnies might be thinking of getting him some at-bats, too. Shimp hit two home runs against both DuBois and State College and broke open the Punxsutawney game with his 3-run blast. In just three games, Shimp tied his teammate, Quentin Brown for the area home run lead and he capped his tremendous week with a 4 for 4 performance against State College.

Game of the Week

Montgomery at Muncy

There are a lot of good ones this week, including today as HAC-I champion Jersey Shore hosts HAC-II champion Montoursville. The Old Shoe rivalry, however, gets the call with Muncy heating up again. Montgomery was the last team that beat Muncy, but the Indians have played like a different team since then. Montgomery swept last year’s series and this will be the last chance the Indians have at reversing recent history.

COMMENTS