Bucks, Raiders build budding rivalry

Chris Glenn feels like he has experienced this before.

The only thing which has changed is the teams involved. And what a story those teams are writing.

Glenn coached Jersey Shore from 2011-14 before arriving at Montgomery last season. While at Jersey Shore, Glenn helped his team win two district championships and both times the Bulldogs defeated Milton. That was the rivalry back then with those rivals meeting for the championship six times in eight years.

Now it feels like a similar Class A rivalry could be brewing. Montgomery plays Bucktail for the District 4 Class A championship Thursday. The Red Raiders (17-3) feature just two senior starters and Bucktail (18-2) has no seniors at all. Northeast Bradford also is loaded and will factor into the title picture the next three years, but one gets the feeling this Montgomery-Bucktail game could be the first of many playoff games these teams play the next few years.

Heck, it already is the second straight. Montgomery defeated Bucktail, 3-1, in last year’s semifinals.

“It’s kind of like at Jersey Shore when we were playing Milton,” Glenn said. “We played a lot of those big games and I liked those games a lot. The Milton-Jersey Shore game was one of best you could play because everyone was playing at a high level and that is what Montgomery-Bucktail games are like and you get to see what you can do at a high level.”

What makes Thursday’s championship especially exciting is how far these programs have come in a short time. They both are reaching high levels and have made both rapid and enormous strides.

Montgomery missed the playoffs two years ago and had not won a playoff game since 2011 prior to last year’s quarterfinal. Bucktail has gone from a basement-level apartment to the penthouse, completely transforming its program and rewriting history throughout the program’s best season ever.

Before 2017, the Bucks never made the playoffs or had a winning season. Now they are making their third consecutive playoff appearance and have shattered the program record for wins while reaching both the district final and state tournament for the first time. Bucktail also captured its first league championship, sharing the Mid-Penn title with Montgomery.

“For a while the district champions usually were coming out of the North in Single A. One thing that will happen is one of the teams down this way will win it this year,” Glenn said. “Bucktail has a great team and (coach) Mike Poorman has done an awesome job. I’m tickled for them and the success they’re having.”

Montgomery has won 16 of its last 17 games and reached the final in dramatic fashion, rallying from a three-run, sixth-inning deficit and a two-run, seventh-inning deficit to defeat two-defending champion NEB, 6-4, in Friday’s semifinals. The Raiders were down to their last strike when freshman Taylor McRae slammed a walk-off, three-run home run, sending Montgomery to its first district final since 2010.

It was Bucktail’s turn to show off its resiliency in the next semifinal. The Bucks trailed 6-0 in the first inning, 7-1 in the third, and 8-7 in the seventh. They kept battling back, tied the game in the seventh and won it, 9-8, in eight innings. Bucktail not only broke through another softball wall, but put itself among the best sports teams in community history, becoming the first Bucktail team in any sport to reach states since 1989.

Few outside the Montgomery and Bucktail dugouts saw these seasons coming. Montgomery reached the semifinals last year, but is one of the area’s youngest teams. Ditto for Bucktail. But the experienced players on both squads have provided excellent leadership, the respective coaches have pushed the right buttons and the freshmen have played like veterans. Put it all together and one has what could be a memorable championship Thursday.

Coincidentally, both regular-season games were blowouts. Bucktail pounded Montgomery, 19-1, in each team’s second game. Montgomery returned the favor and routed Bucktail, 12-1, to snap its 14-game winning streak.

Those games could have been mirages or blips on the radar. A year ago all three games these two played were close, including that exciting quarterfinal. Expect more of 2018 than 2019 in terms of competitiveness.

But expect all 2019 when it comes to the teams’ play. Montgomery is seeking just the second district title in program history and has more wins than any other Raider team except that 2010 team which reached the state final. Bucktail is going where none of its previous teams ever has, so the historical background makes this game especially intriguing.

Truth is, even without the history involved this would be a great game. Both teams feature deep and talented offenses as well as athletes who can make all the defensive plays. Throw in talented pitchers like Emily Snyder, Myka Poorman and Emma Poorman, one has the recipe for a memorable championship.

And memories are exactly what these teams are creating. Montgomery and Bucktail are doing things which either have never happened or rarely happened for their programs. They might just be getting started, too.

Maybe these teams will cross paths again in future championships or other big playoff games.

But Round 1 could be the most fun.

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

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