Montgomery is looking dangerous as season begins

Montgomery could print shirts featuring the team’s “don’t flinch” motto. Maybe those shirts would look catchy and sell.

What Montgomery is doing instead is living that motto.

The Red Raiders (4-1) are tied for first in the Mid-Penn and won two hard-fought games last week before pushing undefeated Montoursville to the limit in Saturday’s 4-3 loss at Giles Field. Whatever the situation, Montgomery is not backing down and is looking mighty dangerous as the season starts gathering steam.

“What I loved is when we went out there to talk to them after the (Montoursville) game as proud of them as we were as coaches, you could see still by the looks on their faces that they were upset that we didn’t win that game,” first-year Montgomery coach Ross Drick said. “That’s what I love to see. They’re in it until the last minute, they keep their heads up, they fight hard. I honestly can’t ask for much more from a group of kids.”

St. John Neumann and Muncy gave Montgomery good battles last week, but the Raiders won, 3-1 and 4-1. Gage Yohn, Brayden Strouse and Trevor Miller threw well in each game and always seemed at their best when the pressure was highest. The Raiders also immediately answered when Muncy tied the game Wednesday and turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 fourth-inning lead against Montoursville.

Making the Montoursville performance more impressive is that a day earlier Montgomery lost starting left fielder Tyler Shadle to an injury in a 1-1 game against Millville that was suspended in the sixth inning. Few gave Montgomery a chance against the defending District 4 Class AAA champions, but the Raiders believed and gave no ground. This team is talented and experienced, but that resiliency is something that could help it just as much when the playoffs arrive.

“We get 110% from all our kids and it makes it fun to be out here and be their coaches,” Drick said. “We have a good group of guys that care about the game and love the game. We care about these kids and it’s just a lot of fun.”

The foundation for Montgomery’s toughness is built upon a dedicated group of seniors who have enjoyed success in multiple sports. Several current players have helped transform the football program and have helped the Raiders reach consecutive District 4 Class A semifinal appearances, in addition to winning the 2017 Mid-Penn championship.

Montgomery starts seven seniors this season and they are hungry to make their final season their best one yet. The Raiders were two innings from reaching last year’s district final and are working hard every day, hoping the journey extends deeper this time.

“Our whole senior class, we’ve jelled a lot throughout everything. We have played a lot of sports together all the way through so to do it together one last time is a pretty big thing for us,” Strouse said after striking out nine in three innings against Muncy, twice leaving multiple runners on base. “We’re just giving our best effort. We know our capabilities and we’re just trying to go out there and put them to use.”

So far, so good. Montgomery has pitched well in every game except one. That day Bucktail scored eight fourth-inning runs and took a one-run lead. Unfazed, Montgomery immediately answered and won, 18-8. And that has driven home why Montgomery has been successful early this season.

Whether it is clutch pitching, quality defensive plays or timely hitting, Montgomery has been able to summon them at crucial times. Players throughout the lineup have produced and the reserves are loaded with potential.

Time will tell if Montgomery produces “don’t flinch” shirts. Here is thinking they would gladly trade them for some gold medals come June. One better believe Montgomery will keep fighting toward that goal.

“We reiterate one game at a time and focus game to game, but you can tell they really want it. They want it very bad,” Drick said. “They all pick each other up very well. They are there for each other and they’re a very close group of friends. They’re not just teammates, they’re friends and that means a lot when that carries out onto the field.”

FIGHTING THROUGH

Muncy also is playing hard-nosed baseball and had its chances against Montgomery despite dressing just nine players. Injuries have ravaged the Indians (1-2) early this season and have especially taken a toll on the pitching staff. Still, there are bright spots and sophomore Max Rymsza threw six strong innings against Montgomery while players like Grady Oden and Cody Duchman made excellent plays.

Muncy could soon be getting back some of its injured players soon and some freshmen starters that might not have seen time early this season have played every inning. Ultimately, Muncy is turning what could be a negative into a positive and the impact could be felt, not just this year, but in the coming seasons. Duchman is a freshman who went 2 for 3 in the season opener, Donovan Diehl hit a key single that helped produce a run against Montgomery and is 5 for 8 through three games.

“We had opportunities, especially early in the game, to push some across and we just didn’t get that big hit, but the more reps we get, those hits will come,” Muncy coach Chris Persing said. “We get some guys back and we can mix and match a little bit and courtesy run here or there and make a defensive change if we need too. These freshmen are getting a ton of varsity reps early and that’s only going to make them tougher moving forward.”

EXTRA BASES

Defending District 4 Class AAAA champion Lewisburg won its first two games, scoring 23 runs in victories against Warrior Run and Shikellamy with sophomore Owen Arndt throwing a five-inning no-hitter against the Braves. Seven players produced multi-hit performances in three games, with West Virginia-bound Josh Heath homering against Warrior Run and Aaron Strosser going 4 for 5 with four RBIs in the last two contests … Central Mountain broke out offensively in an 8-1 win against rival Jersey Shore last Wednesday as Donovan Burnell homered twice and winning pitcher Aaron Swartz homered. The Wildcats are one game behind Mifflinburg and Selinsgrove in the HAC-I … Malaki Parlante went 2 for 4 with three RBIs and Keon Burkholder and Jaiden Cioffi combined on a five-hitter as St. John Neumann defeated St. Joseph’s, 5-2 … Two days earlier, Jersey Shore’s Eli Willits enjoyed a career day in a victory at St. Joseph’s, going 3 for 3 with a home run and double … Nick Barone, Dane Armson and Connor Watkins all had three hits and sophomore Chase Cavanaugh won his first varsity start as Loyalsock defeated Sayre, 18-1. Barone is having a super freshman season and went 3 for 3 with three doubles and five RBIs. Cavanaugh was 2 for 3 with three RBIs in addition to throwing four innings of two-hit baseball … Wellsboro (3-1) is surging offensively, scoring 49 runs in its first three games. The Green Hornets pounded out 16 hits in a come-from-behind 16-10 win over North Penn-Mansfield as six players delivered at least two hits each. Carson Davis drove in four runs in two games last week and Cam Tennis went 5 for 10 with four runs.

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

DR. MASSE’S BASEBALL TOP 5

1. Montoursville (7-0): A busy team last week, Montoursville went 4-0 and started strong with an impressive 8-0 win against North Pocono. Montgomery became the first team to take a lead against the Warriors, but they responded well and played an error-less game while effectively moving runners. The Warriors have hit well throughout the lineup at different times and the bottom of the order was outstanding last week. No. 7 hitter Josh Burger had seven RBIs in his last three games, Hunter Shearer hit safely in all four games and has a seven-game hitting streak and freshman Nolan Kutney reached in all three at-bats against Montgomery. Montoursville is hoping to carry that momentum into Monday’s district championship rematch against rival Loyalsock.

“We’re talking about how we have to shake some things up in our lineup, but you don’t want to shake up the bottom of our order because those guys are the ones getting it done,” Montoursville coach Jeremy Eck said. “To have the guys at the bottom of the order doing what they’re doing is huge.”

2. Williamsport (4-1): Although they lost their first game, 4-1, at Danville last Friday, the Millionaires could benefit from that loss after facing two fireballing pitchers in Brandon McGaw and Trey Miller who throw in the upper 80s and sometimes low 90s. Win or lose, seeing that kind of pitching early in the season could help toward achieving future goals. Williamsport also rallied and defeated Central Mountain, 7-5. Brayton Rowello enjoyed a strong week, going 3 for 5 with two doubles and two RBIs. Carter Sagan also is hitting well and Williamsport received a big boost against Danville when Riley Hilner returned from injury and threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings. He could provide a nice offensive boost as well.

3. Hughesville (6-1): Bloomsburg handed Hughesville’s first loss last Wednesday and snapped a six-game winning streak, but the Spartans still have come a long way since last season. They already have eclipsed last season’s win total and look like a legitimate District 4 Class AAA title contender. The defense struggled and made seven errors against Bloomsburg, but that likely is a mirage. Hunter Wentzel fueled the offense in an 11-1 win against Midd-West, going 2 for 3 with a triple and four RBIs. Dylon Pequignot went 3 for 4 in two games and also earned his third win against Midd-West, extending his scoreless innings streak to 12. This is a big week for Hughesville with games coming against Class AAA title contender Mount Carmel and AA title contender South Williamsport.

4. South Williamsport (5-1): Although South has hit the ball well in several games, pitching has been the team’s calling card through six games. Tripp Breen, Logan Burkett, Pete Sinibaldi and Luke Winner have not let a team score more than two runs in a game. Opponents have scored just eight runs and been limited to one four times. Breen threw a three-hit complete-game with 11 strikeouts in Monday’s 8-1 win against Holy Redeemer before Burkett threw a six-hitter and struck out six in a 3-1 win against Towanda. Dom Harding is helping fuel a balanced offense and has recorded four straight multi-hit games, 5 for 7 with two doubles.

5. Montgomery (4-1): The Raiders are hoping Shadle can return this season because he is a defensive weapon. The senior left fielder was outstanding against Muncy, making three running catches and taking away two potential singles that could have changed the game’s complexion.

“He has made at least five or six catches this year that I thought we’re going to drop. He tracks the ball really well,” Drick said. “I think he is one of those kids that can play outfield at the next level. They make our jobs as coaches easy when they’re playing defense like that.”

Players of the Week

Andrew Ramirez, Lewisburg and Dylan Bower, Montoursville

Ramirez helped ignite Lewisburg’s run to a district championship a year ago and is heating up again. The senior center fielder went 7 for 11 last week with four runs and a stolen base while upping his average to .474. Bower has been one of the area’s most consistent early-season hitters and went 7 for 13 as Montoursville won all four games last week. Bower has hit safely in all seven games while picking up from where he left off a season ago when the senior surged late and hit well throughout the playoffs.

Game of the Week

Hughesville at South Williamsport

The HAC-III is a logjam right now with four teams, including these rivals, tied for first. Both have tough league games Monday against Mount Carmel and Southern Columbia, respectively, and Wednesday’s game will be a big one toward the league standings. It also is a rematch of a 1-0 thriller Hughesville won a few weeks ago. That was a fantastic pitcher’s duel with Dylon Pequignot, Jaret Stroup, Breen and Burkett all throwing well. It would not be shocking if the rematch is another one-run contest that is exciting all afternoon.

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