Chris Masse on high school softball: NEB win highlights Montgomery’s toughness

The ball came at him so fast, Harry Overdorf Jr., barely could react.

The seventh-inning foul ball smashed into the Montgomery assistant coach’s eye and immediately blood poured out. He eventually required five stitches, but Overdorf did not leave the field or his team. Then those players rewarded Overdorf by showing how tough they are.

Neither seeing their coach get injured or a two-run, seventh-inning deficit against two-time defending champion Northeast Bradford could faze Montgomery. The Red Raiders rallied for four seventh-inning runs, won 6-4 on Taylor McRae’s dramatic two-out, 3-run walkoff home run and produced one of the most thrilling victories in program history. Montgomery dethroned NEB, reached its first District 4 Class A championship and state tournament since 2010 and the players let the entire district know that they are as resilient as they are talented.

“We stayed together as a team and worked as a team and everything clicked,” winning pitcher Emily Snyder said. “Last night was the best that we connected. We all came together when we needed each other.”

“It was awesome to see the kids able to come back and stay focused,” Montgomery coach Chris Glenn said. “Whether we won that game or had lost, I was proud of the way they played.”

Montgomery will face fellow Mid-Penn champion Bucktail in Thursday’s championship at the Moser Complex in Turbotville.

NEB had mercy-ruled its last three District 4 playoff opponents, including Montgomery a year ago. The Panthers feature a powerful offense and led 3-0 entering the sixth inning. Six outs from its season being over Montgomery was not thinking about the end. It was thinking about getting started. The Raiders (17-3) scored two runs in the sixth before NEB went up 4-2 in the seventh. It could have been more but freshman right fielder Jenna Waring made a brilliant throw home, cutting down a runner for the third out.

Down two runs and worried about Overdorf, Montgomery maintained its composure and cut it to 4-3 with two outs. Two runners were on when McRae came up. The freshman was down to her last strike and Montgomery’s season was a pitch from being over, but McRae was not rattled. Instead, she crushed the home run that sent Montgomery to states for just the third time in program history. Montgomery has produced some memorable moments over the years, but this home run ranks near the top.

“I’ve been a part of a lot of big games and that was one of the betters ones. I can’t ever remember an ending like that in my coaching career and even from when I was umpiring,” Glenn said. “I’ve seen teams come back in the seventh, but to have a walkoff home run like that makes it extra special. I was happy for all of them and it was fantastic to see Taylor come through like that.”

“I was on second base and I knew the ball went up, but I didn’t even know it was a home run until I got home. There was definitely a lot of excitement and a lot of tears. It was a big win,” said Snyder, one of only two senior starters. “We got 10-runned by Northeast Bradford last year so I wanted to show them that wasn’t us. We’re better than that. That definitely was a good feeling.”

Montgomery has been generating good feelings throughout the season, winning 16 of its last 17 games and winning a share of its first league championship since 2010. A team featuring mostly freshmen and sophomore starters, Montgomery built off last year’s 12-win, semifinal season and has kept getting better throughout the year. It truly has been a team effort with players throughout the roster delivering strong performances and it stayed that way Friday.

But what Glenn really likes about this team is how it grown grittier. Glenn helped turn things around at Hughesville last decade and led Jersey Shore to district championships in 2011 and 2013. He was not immediately thinking about championships when he arrived at Montgomery last year and was more focused on changing the way the players thought and approached the game. Those players have absorbed what the coaches have preached and Friday everything came together as Montgomery flexed its offensive muscle and showed off its relentless attitude.

“We worked hard all season,” Snyder. “It’s definitely paying off.”

“Your goal at the end of year always is to be better than you are at the start of the year and another goal is to change the culture and to play hard to the end,” Glenn said. “There are things that happen out there that are beyond your control and you just have to overcome it. What you can control is yourself and your attitude and remember that you’re in control of yourself. It was a great day for us attitude-wise.”

And a day Montgomery players, coaches and fans likely will never forget.

HISTORY MAKERS: Speaking of tough-minded teams, Bucktail made history the hard way Friday, rallying from a six-run deficit and beating Galeton, 9-8 in eight innings. The Bucks (18-2) will be making their first district final and state tournament appearances and continue a remarkable turnaround. The Bucks had never made the playoffs before 2017 and this team is the first Bucktail team in any sport to reach a state tournament since 1989.

The journey started two years ago when Bucktail made a major breakthrough, more than doubled its win total, won its first playoff game and reached the district semifinals. And this year has been one milestone moment after another. Bucktail has shattered the program record for wins, claimed its first league championship and now has put itself on the stage stage. Just like with Montgomery, the way Bucktail did so was as impressive as the accomplishment itself.

Galeton led Bucktail 6-0 before it even batted and was still up 7-1 in the third inning. The Bucks tied the game in the fourth but Galeton led again 8-7 in the seventh when Bucktail tied the game. An inning later the Bucks were championship-bound. Myka Poorman drove in four runs and fellow three-year starter Emily Cross went 3 for 5 with two RBIs.

This will be the third time Bucktail and Montgomery have played with each winning via the mercy rule on the other team’s home field.

“(Coach) Mike Poorman always has a good and well-prepared team. He is a standup guy and standup coach and I wouldn’t want to play anyone else,” Glenn said. “It’s two good teams, each have a win against the other, we shared the league title and we’re the 1 and 2 seeds. It’s kind of a storybook ending to play each other in the final.”

SLUGFEST: Montoursville gave defending champion and top-seeded Loyalsock all it could handle in Friday’s District 4 Class AAA quarterfinals, but the Lancers persevered, kept hitting and won this offensive show, outlasting their rival, 15-11. The Warriors led 4-0 in the first inning, 6-2 in the second and 8-5 in the fourth, but Loyalsock kept fighting back and took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth when it scored eight times.

Loyalsock (18-3) won for the 15th time in 16 games and will play HAC-III rival Bloomsburg in Tuesday’s semifinals. The Lancers were down, but never out against Montoursville and had seven players produce multi-hit performances while finishing with 19 hits. Summer McNulty went 4 for 5 and Maegan Reitz (2 for 3) sparked the eight-run, fourth-inning rally with a leadoff triple. Had Montoursville right fielder Maddy Probst not made two of the best catches any area player has made this year, Loyalsock may have even done more damage.

In defeat, Montoursville made an impressive statement and produced 14 hits. The Warriors have a nice nucleus returning next season and came a long way following a 1-4 start. Kaitlyn Klotz enjoyed a breakthrough year and went 3 for 4 with a home run and five RBIs. MacKenzie Weaver also homered and Madison Shaffer had three hits.

DUELING ACES: And from the other side of the spectrum there was the North Penn-Liberty-Warrior Run Class AAA showdown. Warrior Run’s Madi Waltman and NP-Liberty’s Savannah Doney showed why there are two of the state’s premier pitchers, throwing two-hitters and taking shutouts into the eighth inning before Hannah Michael scored on a passed ball and gave Warrior Run a thrilling 1-0 win. Waltman threw her seventh straight shutout and helped the Defenders (19-2) earn a semifinal showdown against Miah Consentino and Central Columbia.

Waltman was at her best, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning and striking out 18. The junior threw her 13th shutout, stranded runners in scoring position in the eighth inning and recorded 18 strikeouts for a fourth time. Warrior Run also improved to 4-0 in extra-inning games as Michael walked, stole second and used her speed to send Warrior Run down Route 54 to the Moser Complex for a third straight semifinal appearance.

Doney did all she could to extend both her scholastic career and Liberty’s season. The Bloomsburg-bound senior was brilliant, striking out nine and taming a team that had blown out Liberty in last year’s semifinals. Doney will graduate as the best player in program history, helping take the team to new heights the last four years. She topped both 100 career hits and 500 strikeouts, setting program records in each category.

BACK AGAIN: Jersey Shore is headed back to the District 4 Class AAAA championship after defeating Selinsgrove, 7-3 in Saturday’s semifinals. The Bulldogs erased a third-inning deficit and earned their fourth finals appearance in five seasons. The defending champions will try and capture their fourth title in five years Wednesday when they play HAC-I rival Mifflinburg. Those teams split two regular-season contests.

Jersey Shore (15-5) has become one of the state’s most tradition-laden programs throughout the 2000s and continued enhancing that status Saturday, collecting 10 hits and receiving six-hit pitching from Kylie Russell. The Bulldogs are trying to win their seventh district championship this decade and their ninth since 2000. During that time, Jersey Shore have reached the final 14 times.

Haley Stetts, Brianna Herman and Carolyn Wacker all had two hits against Selinsgrove, while Maddie Herman hit a fifth-inning home run and Alyssa Stover doubled.

SO CLOSE: Mookie Sauers pitched the best game of her high school career, throwing a five-hitter that included eight strikeouts, but South Williamsport dropped a heartbreaking 1-0 District 4 Class AA semifinal to Line Mountain. Sauers was outstanding down the stretch this season and allowed just six hits in her last two starts. She provides a nice foundation for South to build upon next season.

So does Shea Floyd who hit a seventh-inning double and gave South late-game hope. Sydney Bachman also is returning and delivered a hit. Bachman’s older sister Bella, Ashley Gardner, Emily Hennigan and Natalya Steppe capped their strong scholastic careers. They, along with fellow senior Gwenn Blass, helped South win a share of a league championship and reach two district finals.

Dr. Masse’s Top Five: 1. Loyalsock (18-3); 2. Warrior Run (19-2); 3. Jersey Shore (15-5); 4. Montgomery (17-3); 5. Bucktail (18-2)

Players of the Week–Taylor McRae, Montgomery and Myka Poorman, Bucktail: Hard not to go with McRae considering the magnitude of what she did when Montgomery was one strike from being eliminated. Likewise, Poorman came up huge in a thrilling semifinal, providing strong pitching and offense. The junior pitcher threw 7 2/3 innings of outstanding relief, striking out five and keep her team in the game. She also went 2 for 4 with four RBIs as Bucktail hurdled its latest obstacle.