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Hughesville celebrates Independent Summer League championship

GERI SCHNURE/For the Sun-Gazette Hughesville players pile on top of each other at the pitcher’s mound after defeating Loyalsock to win the Independent Summer League championship on Saturday.

HUGHESVILLE — It took quite a long and winding road there and the climax came two months after it was originally scheduled.

Still, Hughesville’s baseball players finally created the dog pile they so coveted. This was not the championship Hughesville thought it would be celebrating, but it sure felt good, especially for seven recent graduates.

Devin Swank closed out a tough semifinal, then ignited a comeback a game later. Swank threw five strong innings Saturday at Bodine Park as Hughesville defeated Loyalsock, 11-3, and captured the Independent Summer League championship. Swank also hit a leadoff home run in the final as Hughesville erased a three-run deficit and played one of its best, and most complete, games.

Hughesville had high expectations entering 2020 but never was given the opportunity to show what it could do after the COVID-19 pandemic erased the spring high school season. Hughesville will never know what would have happened, but it offered a glimpse at how dangerous it may have been and earned an impressive consolation prize, finishing the summer league 13-1 and winning its last eight games.

“It means so much. When I first found out our season was canceled I didn’t know what to do for a week or so. When (Hughesville) coach Kish said I might have an independent league for you guys to play in and I was like, ‘Count me in. I will be there every time.’ I loved every bit of it,” Hughesville second baseman Ian Gagliano said after going 6 for 6 in Saturday’s two wins. “It was awesome doing that dog pile. All winter when we were warming up and working out in the weight room we were like, ‘we have to go for the dog pile at the end.’ That’s what we did and it feels amazing.”

Hughesville defeated Warrior Run, 9-6, in the semifinals. Swank entered in the sixth inning with no outs and the tying runs on base, but struck out the side on nine pitches before fanning two more in the seventh. He then hit the home run which ignited an explosive offense in the final where Hughesville pounded out 13 hits.

Every Hughesville starter reached base, Swank and Jacob Corson threw six consecutive scoreless innings after the first, and the defense made no errors. Losing the spring season was awful, but Hughesville cashed in on a new opportunity and created some outstanding memories. They finally dogpiled near the pitcher’s mound after Gagliano fielded a grounder and threw to first baseman Devin Maciejewski for the final out.

“I don’t mean this to sound wrong or arrogant but I would play anyone, anywhere. We’ll play in a parking lot. It doesn’t matter to me and I know the coaches felt the same way. I would have played anybody because I felt that strongly about this group,” Kish said. “The atmosphere was electric and they showed championship mettle.”

“I’ve looked up to all of the seniors and I’m glad their final game was here and we were able to help them win a championship,” Swank said. “We wanted to send them off as champions and not just have them remember their season being taken away. They deserve this more than anyone else.”

Loyalsock upset No. 2 Mill Hall, 9-6, in its semifinal, overcoming a 4-0, third-inning deficit. Every Loyalsock player will be back in the spring and it showed how dangerous it might become throughout that comeback. Joeb Schurer threw 3 2/3 brilliant innings of scoreless relief, Matt Worth and Nick Laubach homered, and Chase Cavanaugh delivered three hits. Worth ignited a six-run, fourth-inning rally with a leadoff home run and Laubach capped it with a two-run home run.

Loyalsock built on that momentum in the top of the first against Hughesville. Cavanaugh walked, Nick Barone singled, and Worth (4 for 8, four RBIs in two games) hit an RBI single. Josh Rankey added an RBI grounder and Moxen Cotter ripped an RBI single, making it 3-0.

“Mill Hall has some great players. They have a bunch of kids that graduated that are going places and kids who know how to play the game, but our kids came out and got punched in the mouth early and fought back,” Loyalsock coach Zac Martin said. “I have full trust in our offense and our defense. It stinks to lose (the final), but I was encouraged. I told the guys after the game I think our program took five steps forward this summer.”

Swank helped Hughesville take a huge step forward in the championship when he slammed his leadoff home run over the left-field fence. Brenden Knight singled two batters later and scored on a Clayton Poust (2 for 2, two RBIs) triple. An inning later, Hughesville scored two more runs and never looked back.

Last Monday, Hughesville erased a 2-0 deficit against Loyalsock and again it did not flinch when immediately falling behind Saturday. Hughesville scored multiple runs in each of its first four at-bats, adding three runs each in the third and fourth to build a 10-3 advantage.

“The three runs kind of woke us up,” Swank said. “They are a great team and they can absolutely hit the ball. No matter where I put it they hit it. It was frustrating, but it opened our eyes and got us going.”

“I told everybody three means nothing to us. It was right then and there,” Gagliano said. “We started hitting the gas and didn’t let up and we were on cruise control at 100 from there.”

Gagliano helped keep the offensive machine humming, going 3 for 3 for a second game in a row. Corson threw two scoreless innings in relief and also continued his torrid summer, finishing the final 3 for 4 with a double after homering twice against Warrior Run. Knight went 2 for 4 and hit a two-run, fourth-inning single, and Brock Stroup smashed a two-run, third-inning triple.

Over its final three league games, Hughesville scored 27 runs and belted four home runs. It also scored in all but one inning against Loyalsock.

“In seven years this is the best hitting team we’ve had in Hughesville, in my opinion. That’s them. That’s all the kids,” Kish said. “In seven years, I’ve never seen kids hit the ball and hit it as hard as they did this summer. We have some cheapies that fall in but that’s what happen when you hit the ball hard, cut down on the strikeouts and put the ball in play.”

Championship game

Hughesville 11, Loyalsock 3

Loyalsock 300 000 0 — 0 6 2

Hughesville 223 301 x — 11 13 0

Josh Rankey, Nick Laubach (3) and Cooper Larson. Devin Swank, Jacob Corson (6) and Chase Bremigen. W–Swank. L–Rankey.

Top Loyalsock hitters: Matt Worth 2-4, RBI, R; Nick Barone 1-3, R; Rankey 1-3, RBI; Moxen Cotter 2-3, RBI; Larson 1-3. Top Hughesville hitters: Swank 1-3, HR, 2 RBIs; Devin Maciejewski 1-3, R; Corson 3-4, 2B, 2 R; Brenden Knight 2-3, 2 RBIs, R; Clayton Poust 2-2, 3B, 2 RBIs, 2 R; Brock Stroup 1-2, 3B, 3 RBIs; Ian Gagliano 3-3.

Semifinals

Hughesville 9,

Warrior Run 6

W–Trent Knarr. SV–Swank.

Top Hughesville hitters: Corson, 2 HR; Gagliano 3-3.

Loyalsock 9, Mill Hall 6

Loyalsock 001 602 0 — 9 10 2

Mill Hall 130 200 0 — 6 4 2

Chase Cavanaugh, Joeb Schurer (4) and Larson. Brody Miller, Chase Brush (4) and Noah Helms. W–Schurer. L–Miller.

Top Loyalsock hitters: Cavanaugh 3-4, 2 RBIs, 2 R; Barone 1-4, 2B, 2 RBIs; Worth 2-4, HR, 3 RBIs; Rankey 2-4, R; Labauch 1-2, HR, 2 RBIs. Top Mill Hall hitters: Rocco Stark 1-3, HR; Kaden Falls 2-3, 3 RBIs; Brush 2 BB, 2 R.

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