Win gives Eck chance to coach once more

Montoursville coach Jeremy Eck was not there Monday when his team played District 2 champion Lakeland at Marywood University.

But one better believe his players were thinking of him. Eck was ejected in the 10th inning of a dramatic District 4 Class AAA championship win against Loyalsock last week. A night filled with controversial calls against both teams culminated with Eck being ejected following a questionable checked swing call. Eck was disappointed in himself for being tossed, but it also lit a teamwide spark. Four batters later, Montoursville celebrated its first district title since 2010.

Those flames continued being fanned Monday as Montoursville won its first state tournament game in 12 years, blanking Lakeland, 8-0. Per PIAA rule, Eck had to sit out that game following the ejection but will be back Thursday when the Warriors (18-2) face Oley Valley in the state quarterfinals at Pottsville.

“It meant a lot,” senior Ryan Kessler said. “He wants to coach one more. We want to keep playing.”

“He said before the game he wants to coach one more game for the seniors, so we got him at least one more game with the seniors,” pitcher Logan Ott said after throwing five no-hit innings.

Eck has brought Montoursville a long way in his first season coaching his alma mater. Following a fantastic seven-year tenure from 2010-16 at Loyalsock which included two state championships and four district titles, Eck thought he might be done coaching for a while. That changed when the Montoursville position became available. This was the only job Eck would come back for so soon and his fingerprints are all over the team’s success.

The players do the heavy lifting and Eck is surrounded by an excellent coaching staff, but he has made a major impact. Montoursville lost the majority of its starters from last year’s district semifinalist. Eck convinced them early they could become champions. Instead of taking a step back, the Warriors steamrolled forward, winning their first HAC-II crown before dethroning Loyalsock for the district championship.

Even though Eck was not there Monday, the mission remained the same. Keep doing everything it takes to win.

“I have to give it to the kids because they wanted this one for him to get him back and to get him to coach again,” assistant coach Craig Weaver Jr., said. “We told him we’d do whatever we could to get him back up there.”

It is a reciprocal relationship. It is hard imagining many high school baseball coaches being able to push Montoursville toward a district championship and the state quarterfinals so fast. During that Loyalsock tenure, there was never a year when Eck’s teams did not at least win a league championship.

The key when he came home to Montoursville was creating those similar expectations. Montoursville has not missed the postseason since 1984, but good could not be good enough anymore. It was time to add some more banners and Eck has pushed the right buttons to make it happen. This is a team which has been hit hard by injuries but kept rolling, winning 13 consecutive games. Nearly every player has delivered a timely hit, play or performance to help Montoursville become one of the state’s best eight Class AAA teams.

That is not a coincidence. This team believes.

“Coach Eck coming in and changing the culture has really helped us,” Kessler said. “We have confidence in everybody we put up there.”

That showed Monday. Ott threw five no-hit innings and homered, and three players drove in at least two runs. Gabe Phillips added two hits, Dylan Bower hit an RBI single, Dylan Moll scored twice, and the defense played an error-less game. It was that way against Loyalsock when Montoursville erased a 2-0, sixth-inning deficit, Owen Kiess threw three innings of scoreless relief and Cameron Wood hit a game-tying double.

This has become a true team that has grown exponentially from where it started the season. The Warriors are playing with energy and passion and that is just in pregame situations these days. Montoursville is taking good practice onto the field and the results speak for themselves.

“That’s what we’ve been preaching to these guys. We were night and day earlier this season,” Eck said following an 11-0 district semifinal win against Mount Carmel. “We come out fired up and we get hot early we’re a very good team. We come out and we’re not energetic and we sit around a little bit, then we put ourselves in some tough situations where we’re going to be in a battle. We have to be ready to go.”

Montoursville has been this entire postseason. Making state tournament runs is hard. These opportunities do not come around often and Montoursville is doing all it can to embrace this one.

Doing just that Monday gave its coach one more opportunity to coach this season.