Montoursville wants more than a district title

Montoursville spent most of 2019 lurking among the shadows. The Warriors kept winning baseball games, but expectations were not sky-high for a young team that lost several good players from the previous season.

How satisfying it was then when Montoursville captured both the HAC-II and District 4 Class AAA championships while reaching the state’s Final Four. The Warriors silenced their critics and showed how good they could be.

Last year’s success made Montoursville a marked team entering 2019. It stayed that way all year as the Warriors consistently took District 4 opponents’ best shot. How satisfying it is then to once again be district champions. The Warriors (19-3) want more than a district championship and open the state tournament today against Wyoming Seminary, but one better believe the district title they won last Friday, beating Central Columbia, 1-0, sure felt good.

So many times it looked like Montoursville might be finished and all three district playoff wins were by one run. But now the Warriors are back where they want to be, competing in states as district champions again.

“It’s two completely different seasons. Last year no one really thought we were going to be able to turn it around as quick as we did and we kind of shocked some people,” Montoursville coach Jeremy Eck said. “We had a bulls-eye on our backs all year this season. We got everyone’s best shot. Teams have been doing that all year against us.”

But Montoursville is still standing, still fighting and still wanting more. The Warriors repeated as district champions for the first time since 1999-2000 and are hoping the district high-wire act can serve as a springboard moving forward.

Montoursville certainly earned today’s state tournament game the hard way. The Warriors trailed Wellsboro by a run in the sixth inning before winning a 3-2 quarterfinal. They were down to their last three outs in the semifinals against Loyalsock, but forced extra innings and won, 3-2, in eight innings. Montoursville needed to work extra and dig deep again against Central, winning 1-0 when Cameron Wood hit a two-out, ninth-inning walk-off single.

The Warriors have not yet played their best baseball, but they have proven to be tougher than Rocky Balboa battling Apollo Creed. They would rather land quick knockout blows but have shown the tenacity to go the distance and gut out wins.

“Against Wellsboro we were behind, against Loyalsock we were behind and (Friday) we were in a dogfight and thankfully we found a way to come back and win,” Wood said. “It gives us momentum going into Monday. It’s the energy that we have.”

“We were battling all day. We fought and they fought, too,” Logan Ott said after throwing eight shutout innings against Central and striking out 12. “We choked up and poked some in there and we hit some balls hard. We were able to put the ball in play and make them get outs.”

Montoursville has shown that grit throughout the season. Looking back it was a harbinger when its season opener against Jersey Shore was scoreless entering the bottom of the sixth. That day Montourville erupted for eight sixth-inning runs and won, 8-3. At midseason, the Warriors trailed Lewisburg 3-0 in the 10th inning but scored three runs in the bottom half, tying it before the game was suspended because of darkness.

That game resumed late in the year and Montoursville won, 4-3, in 11 innings. Players throughout the roster have delivered timely hits, made key defensive plays and delivered clutch pitching performances. It happened against Central, and Montoursville is hoping that formula continues working today.

Montoursville is experiencing its best two-year run of the 2000s and that is saying a lot. This is a proud program that has made 35 straight playoff appearances. Eck was part of a similar tradition-laden program when he coached Loyalsock from 2010-16 and helped it win the 2013 and 14 state championships.

But Eck grew up in Montoursville. He played there and his kids go to school there. His former coach, his best friend and a former player all help coach along his side.

And it means a lot knowing that this team has become a reflection of what Montoursville baseball represents.

“This is my community. Loyalsock was awesome. It was some of the best years of my life and I’ll never forget those guys and those moments,” Eck said. “But being here and seeing our community behind us where I grew up and played and seeing my boys and my best friend’s little boys in the dugout running around, that’s what it is all about to me. It’s about playing and representing our community the best way that we can.”

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