Area baseball, softball teams set for states today

Six area baseball and softball teams captured District 4 championships last week. Those teams and three other area runners-up who reached their respective state tournaments have put together super seasons that they will never forget.

But now they have a shot at doing a lot more. Now those teams have a chance to really separate themselves from all the other teams in the programs’ histories. The state baseball and softball tournaments begin today and nine area teams are now chasing the ultimate dream. A common theme among these teams is attempting to end state tournament victory droughts.

Williamsport won its second straight District 2-4 Class AAAAAA championship last week. The Millionaires (12-6) are repeat champions for the first time in 15 years but are seeking their first state tournament victory since 2002 when they beat Chambersburg in the state quarterfinals. They try and earn that win against District 1’s Downingtown East.

“I can speak for the other 10 seniors on the team. This is something we’ve been dreaming for and working for since we were freshmen,” pitcher/shortstop Tanner Esposito said. “We’ve rebuilt the program and we’re coming out hot and I hope we can break that streak.”

“Last year we went out prematurely,” center fielder Quentin Brown said. “We had a good team last year and could have made a run so that gives us added motivation.”

Williamsport has overcome a lot to reach this point. The Millionaires opened the season 1-4, endured a midseason coaching change and lost two of their last three regular-season games. Nothing has come easy, but Williamsport has persevered and now has the chance it has craved.

“We went through a lot this year. Winning districts is something we wanted to overcome and we really did it and I’m really excited (for states),” right fielder/pitcher Cody Shimp said. “We have played together since we were 12 and we have jelled together well. We know how when somebody is down to get them back up. It’s really a good feeling.”

Montoursville has experienced many good feelings, winning 12 straight games and capturing its first district championship since 2010. The Warriors (17-2) edged Loyalsock, 3-2 in 10 innings in last week’s epic District 4 Class AAA championship. As exciting as that win was, Montoursville wants to take the next step.

The Warriors have not won a state tournament game since 2006 when they beat St. Pius X, 4-2 in 15 innings in the Class AA state semifinals. Montoursville has taken delight in proving others wrong this season and has a chance to keep doing that when it opens states against District 2 champion Lakeland.

“The mentality we had at Loyalsock was good but was not good enough,” said first-year Montoursville coach Jeremy Eck who led Loyalsock to state championships in 2013 and 14. “I just don’t want us to be satisfied with winning a district championship.”

The same goes at South Williamsport. Like Montoursville, the Mounties (14-6) have come light years from where they were earlier this season and won their first district championship since 2002 when they beat Wellsboro , 7-0 last Tuesday for the Class AA title. South’s state tournament drought stretches its entire program’s history because no Mountie team has ever won a state game.

South is a good team, but it also is a loose team. The Mounties, who play Bellwood-Antis, understand the historical ramifications, but they also understand that many teams do not get to play in games like these. These are the ones to really savor.

“That’s all we’re doing is just enjoying it and staying loose and having fun,” pitcher Tripp Breen said. “It puts us here. We just have fun playing the greatest game there is.”

Wellsboro also is going after its first state tournament win. The Class AA runners-up nearly did so last year in their debut, losing a 1-0 heartbreaker to Old Forge and face District 11 champion Schuylkill Haven.

Lewisburg ended a 16-year playoff drought last season and won its first district championship since 2000 when it blanked Selinsgrove, 5-0 and earned the Class AAAA title last Tuesday. The Green Dragons (13-9) are a young team that rallied from a 5-8 start and who outscored three district opponents, 25-0. Lewisburg plays Valley View and is chasing its first state tournament win since 1999.

“We definitely have a lot of momentum,” third baseman Peter Marrara said. “We’re going to try and carry that into states.”

Jersey Shore softball is aiming for the same thing. The Bulldogs (19-2) thumped Shamokin, 10-2 last Wednesday and captured the District 4 Class AAA championship. It was the program’s third district title in four years and sixth this decade. Jersey Shore, though, can separate itself from many of this decade’s teams if it beats Bethlehem Catholic since the Bulldogs have not won a state game since the 2010 Eastern Region final.

Loyalsock has won four straight state tournament games, capturing the 2008 Class AA state championship. However, the Lancers are returning to states for the first time since that season after beating Warrior Run, 6-4 and winning the Class AAA title last week. Loyalsock (18-4) has won 12 straight games and faces District 2 champion Holy Redeemer in a heavyweight battle.

Warrior Run (16-4) plays Brandywine Heights in its first state tournament game since 2013. Sullivan County is making its state tournament debut today at Penn State when it faces Claysburg-Kimmel. The Griffins (16-5) reached their first district final and have made a 12-win improvement from last year.