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Decade’s best No. 6: Win over Goretti symbolized Sock’s toughness in 2014 in baseball

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a series looking back at the Top 10 high school baseball teams, coaches, games and players from the last decade.

Loyalsock led by two runs and was one strike from again reaching the Class AA state championship. It had been a tough Eastern Region final against powerhouse Neumann-Goretti.

But maybe not tough enough.

The entire 2014 season had been a grind. A year after Loyalsock captured the state title, it encountered adversity at nearly every stop along the repeat path. A week into the season coach Jeremy Eck’s mother Brenda was told she had a week to live after having fought cancer for more than a year. All-state outfielder Robbie Klein missed most of the regular season, Duke-bound pitcher Luke Glavin was lost for the year in April, a coach exited at midseason and Loyalsock started 8-5 as injuries continued mounting. Through it all, Loyalsock persevered and again reached the state semifinals.

So maybe it was destiny that it had to win another Eastern Region championship in such dramatic fashion. Loyalsock was a strike from victory five times, but Charlie Jerla was hit by a pitch to put the tying runs on base before recent Boston Red Sox fifth-round draft choice Josh Ockimey ripped a double down the left-field line. The lead runner easily scored and it looked like Jerla might score the tying run.

Instead, pitcher Kyle Datres retrieved Klein’s relay threw and fired home to catcher Evan Moore. Jerla was caught in a rundown and Moore chased him down, tagging him out. Somehow, Loyalsock was again on its way to the state final, edging Goretti, 4-3, at Northern York High School.

“We had to make it exciting. When he hit it I thought ‘Oh no,’ but this is what we’ve been dealing with all year,” first baseman Tommy Baggett said after going 2 for 3. “We’ve been through everything together. They made a few mistakes and we thought that it was God’s way of telling us it was meant to be.”

“It wasn’t an easy one. This year has been a struggle since Week 2 but maybe that’s why we’re here,” Eck said. “We battled adversity and we found our way through it.”

Loyalsock began finding its way after capturing the Backyard Brawl. It gathered steam from there, survived a scare against Montoursville in the district quarterfinals and then outscored HAC-II champion Hughesville and state quarterfinalist Bloomsburg, 17-4, while winning the district title.

When freshman Andrew Malone closed out the 6-1 first-round state tournament victory against Bald Eagle Area, it meant Loyalsock could ride Datres the rest of the way and the relentless junior had no problem shouldering the load. He ran his playoff record to 11-0 that year and threw 27 2/3 straight scoreless innings between the Montoursville and Goretti games. That included a two-hit shutout against Notre Dame-Green Pond in a 4-0 quarterfinal victory, a win highlighted by Jimmy Webb’s two-run home run.

Goretti might have been the state’s most talented Class AA team that year and Loyalsock faced two Division I pitchers that day in Pat Doudican and Jerla. Ockimey was recruited to play at Indiana before signing with the Red Sox and now is playing for its Triple-A affiliate.

Still, Loyalsock was loaded itself and never trailed in this state semifinal. Datres threw a six-hit complete game and took a 2-0 second-inning lead when Baggett and Moore singled and both Joey Balawajder and Nick DiFrancesco dropped bunt singles. Goretti tied the game, 2-2, with runs in the third and fourth innings and the outcome between these two titans came down to rundowns.

Phil Krizan scored on a delayed first and third fifth-inning double steal after pinch-runner Michael LaPoint broke for second. Krizan waited for the rundown to develop, broke for home and scored on an overthrow. An inning later, Bailey Young belted a leadoff double and freshman Ryan Fink ran for him. With two outs and runners on the corners again, Datres took off for second.

This time, Goretti carefully watched the lead runner. Fink streaked for home and Goretti had a chance at throwing him out, but Ockimey’s throw sailed high and Fink scored to make it, 4-2. How vital Fink’s run was became evident an inning later.

Datres opened the seventh with his seventh strikeout before Vinnie Vaccone singled. Datres then induced a grounder back to the mound for the second out and went up 0-2 on Jerla before hitting him with a pitch and putting the tying run on base. Datres went again 0-2 on Ockimey and nearly froze him with two straight borderline pitches which were called balls. The 6-foot-5 slugger then drove the next pitch down the left-field line as Jerla started sprinting.

Klein quickly retrieved the ball and made a perfect cut-off throw to Datres standing near the oufield grass. Jerla had been told to hold but because of the noise he never heard coach Kevin Schneider’s words. By he time, he pumped his brakes Jerla was in big trouble and Moore made the run of his life, chasing him back to third and tagging him out before he could ever reach it. The final was 4-3, but the most important stat might have been 3-0 Loyalsock in rundowns.

“When he rounded the corner, I honestly couldn’t believe it at first. There was no chance he was going to score there but when Kyle got the throw we knew we had him and I was able to run him down,” Moore said. “The rundowns are one of the things we practice the most. With all the adversity we’ve dealt with it felt like we finally got something to go our way.”

“There’s not even words to describe what’s going through my mind right there at the end,” Datres said after improving to 5-0 that season. “Everything we’ve gone through this year, the ups, the downs, Coach Eck’s mom right now fighting on … She wants us to get the state championship and we’re going to try and get it for her.”

They did.

Loyalsock played one of its best games four days later. Moore threw out three runners, Datres threw another complete game and the Lancers hit well throughout the lineup as they beat undefeated Central, 5-1, and became just the third Class AA team to repeat as state champions.

Goretti had given Loyalsock its toughest playoff game and the way the Lancers won that day symbolized who they were. Give this team a challenge and watch it conquer it.

“I think the majority of us knew we could do it,” Baggett said. “But we knew it wasn’t going to be easy and it hasn’t been easy at all.”

Maybe that is what made it so meaningful.

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