Millionaires back in familiar territory

Many had the feeling that following a Class 6A state quarterfinal loss a year ago, Williamsport baseball might be headed downward. The Millionaires then spent the entire 2019 season proving how wrong that prediction was.

Williamsport went 16-5, its most wins in a year since 2011, came within five outs of winning a third straight District 2-4 championship and won 12 of its last 14 games. Now the Millionaires are back in familiar territory. Five full-time starters, including St. Bonaventure-bound pitcher Kyle Caringi, graduate. There are some big shoes that need filled and one could look at Monday’s heartbreaking 6-5 district championship loss against Hazleton as an ending.

Again, the returning Millionaires see things different. Again, they are eager to change the perception and keeping enhancing this program’s rich tradition.

“I think this is definitely just a start,” freshman center fielder Dallas Griess said after hitting an RBI triple that ignited a five-run third-inning rally. “As young as we are, I think we’ll do really well moving ahead.”

“I can see the same thing happening again,” Williamsport coach Kyle Schneider said. “I can see guys stepping up and surprising some people and I can see us having another fantastic year like we did this year.”

Before looking ahead, one needs to look back at what could spark Williamsport as it moves into a new decade next season. It was not just that Williamsport won a lot of games, it was how it won them.

The Millionaires won two games on walkoff plays and another two after breaking a tie in the seventh or eighth inning. They frequently rallied to win games and showed poise under pressure as different players delivered in big spots, whether hitting, pitching or on defense.

Four seniors hit .312 or higher, Caringi and Riley Hilner provided strong pitching and the seniors set an example that future players can emulate. They did not win a district championship, but the seniors helped build quite a bridge toward the future.

“These guys work so, so hard. They didn’t care that people thought they might not do much this year. They wanted to prove a lot of people wrong and they did,” Schneider said. “We played really well this year. We won a lot of games because they didn’t give up.”

“The thing that helped me the most was studying up with the seniors,” Griess said. “They did a great job leading us all year and we get to follow in their footsteps and do what it takes to try and keep this thing going.”

Griess was good at that this season, hitting .338 from the leadoff spot. He is one of the players who provides a strong foundation to build upon. Catcher Drake Mankey enjoyed a breakthrough season, hitting .406; sophomore second baseman Braeden Mazzante had a .449 on-base percentage and Brock Moyer and Carter Sagan both made a positive marks. Freshmen like Cameron Sims, Xavier Taylor and Atreyu Murray, among others, also are players who look like they could make major impacts in 2020 and beyond.

Junior Jon Zayas was a co-ace along with Caringi, going 6-1 with 1.81 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 43 innings. He provides Williamsport one of the area’s premier pitchers and if depth can be built behind him, the staff likely will remain strong.

It also helps that many of these younger players have now experienced playoff baseball. Williamsport came so close to winning another district championship and these returnees want that and more now. Several players have big-game experience and can grow into leadership roles like the ones the seniors so ably filled this season.

I will be honest. I never thought Williamsport could or would win 16 games this year and come so close to winning another district title. I thought this would be a rebuilding year. I underestimated both the players and the coaches. This team made enormous strides and took another step forward.

There are some who likely thing the progress might stop next season. Like I did following last year, they might be focusing on what Williamsport is losing instead of what it has returning.

The bottom line is: Williamsport does not care what others think. This program knows what it has and what it can do. So moving forward my advice would be this…

Don’t bet against the Millionaires.

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