Improved vision has helped Dalena take off at plate

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Montoursville’s Nolan Kutney is safe at third base as Wellsboro third baseman Darryn Callahan tries to field the throw on a double by Gabe Phillips in the first inning.

It felt like Montoursville might be appealing to a higher power as it prepared to bat in the sixth inning Wednesday at Giles Field.

“Praise the Lord, I see the Light,” was the song selection as Wellsboro held a one-run lead and was six outs from recording a huge District 4 Class AAA quarterfinal upset. So maybe it was divine intervention which caused Jaxon Dalena to fix his eye problems a few weeks ago and start wearing contact lenses, and maybe a higher power intervened again yesterday. Whatever the case, Dalena is seeing the ball and everything else better these days and he delivered his most important hit yet this season at the most crucial time.

Dalena hit a one-out RBI single to score Dylan Bower, breaking a tie and lifting Montoursville to a 3-2 win against No. 9 seed Wellsboro. Dalena also took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Logan Ott threw 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief and the defending district champions earned a spot against rival Loyalsock in Friday’s semifinals at Central Columbia.

“I knew at some point this year I’d start hitting. I got contacts, so maybe that’s a reason,” Dalena said. “I’ve just been trying to make contact and it’s been working. I’m just trying to help the team. That’s all I want to do.”

That is exactly what he did. Dalena was one of the district’s best hitters last season when Montoursville reached the state semifinals, but was mired in a slump for a long stretch earlier this season. He then started wearing contacts and delivered a key two-run single in a HAC-II title-clinching win against Loyalsock. A 2 for 2 performance with a triple and three RBIs followed against Class AAAA power North Schuylkill followed and Dalena has felt locked in since.

And that meant so much on a day Zach Rowland repeatedly squashed Montoursville threats and had the Green Hornets (11-10) five outs from pulling off the stunner. Cameron Wood ignited the sixth-inning rally with a leadoff single before Maddix Dalena was hit by a pitch. Dylan Bower than hit a grounder up the middle that resulted in a forceout at second base, but pinch-runner Josh Burger’s excellent slide broke up a potential double play and may have forced an errant throw that brought in the tying run and put Bower on second.

Dalena quickly fell behind 0-2 before taking a ball and fouling off two pitches. He then turned on an inside fastball, sending it to right field and allowing Bower to easily score the go-ahead run. Carson Davis hit a two-run single in the seventh, but Ott’s pickoff move led to Wood throwing out the pinch-runner at second as Montoursville (17-3) clinched a hard-fought win that had heartrates throughout its bleachers soaring.

“I was just trying to get the ball in play and get in a run at least. Thank God it went into the outfield and the run scored,” Dalena said. “He kept throwing curves at me and I was just trying to make contact and fight him off. I was just trying to do what I can to win the game and move on to the next playoffs.”

“Jaxon is turning the corner, but we have to get the other guys going, too,” Montoursville coach Jeremy Eck said. “He’s been in big games all his life in football and baseball so he’s accustomed to it.”

Dalena ran his scoreless innings streak to 20 1/3 innings before Wellsboro scored twice in the fifth and took a 2-1 lead. The right-hander struck out six worked out of trouble in three consecutive innings, stranding five runners. Nolan Kutney hit a one-out, first-inning single and scored on Gabe Phillips’ ensuing single and a throwing error, giving Montoursville a 1-0 lead, and Dalena kept it that way until the fifth.

Rowland also walked an impressive high-wire act, stranding a runner in each of the first five innings, including four in scoring position. Montoursville started the game 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position, but Dalena finally delivered that timely hit which had been so elusive.

Still, Montoursville knows it was fortunate yesterday and that it must play better moving forward.

“We are too good of a team to perform the way we did offensively. Something has to give. Either it’s going to be an early exit for us or we’re going to buy in and guys are going to find a way to get it done,” Eck said. “I know everyone wants to get in there and be a hero and drive the ball all over the park but there’s more to baseball than that. We have to execute and do the little things and it just didn’t happen tonight. The only thing I said to them (afterward) is you’re 1-0 and they’re 0-1 and they’re going home and the only thing that matters is that you hopefully have seven of your best innings of baseball waiting in front of you.”

Rowland is a sophomore who excelled all season and was at his best when the pressure was highest. The right-hander kept Montoursville off-balance and stranded another runner at third in the sixth.

“Zach has given us a chance every game all year,” Wellsboro coach Matt Perry said. “He’s really quiet, he doesn’t say a whole lot but inside you can tell he has his game face on he’s going to compete hard against you.”

Cameron Tennis reached on a one-out error in the fifth and the Warriors botched a rundown a batter later, putting runners at second and third. Billy Lechler made Wellsboro’s first hit a big one, scoring a two-run single into right-center field and giving the Hornets a 2-1 lead. Ott then entered and induced a flyout before leaving the bases loaded with the first of his six straight strikeouts.

It did not achieve the result it wanted, but Wellsboro could still go soaring into the offseason. A young team that was up and down at times this season showed how dangerous it can be and will be a team to watch in 2020.

“We’re kind of young so hopefully they come back hungry again. I don’t think they necessarily believed me when I told them at the beginning of the year that they could play with these guys, but they believe now because it came to fruition. We showed we can compete with these teams. They came to play today.”

Montoursville 3, Wellsboro 2

Wellsboro 000 020 0–2 3 2

Montoursville 100 002 x–3 8 2

Zach Rowland and Kaeden Mann. Jaxon Dalena, Logan Ott (5) and Maddix Dalena. W–Ott, (8-0). L–Rowland, (3-3).

Top Wellsboro hitters: Carson Davis 2-3; Billy Lechler 1-4, 2 RBIs. Top Montoursville hitters: J. Dalena 3-3, 2B, RBI; Nolan Kutney 2-3, R; Cameron Wood 1-3; Gabe Phillips 1-3; Ott 1-3.

Records: Montoursville (17-3). Wellsboro (11-10).